How The Apple Store Trains Its Geniuses To Manipulate You

People consider the Apple Store experience the gold standard–or at least the brushed aluminum standard–of electronics retail. Companies from AT&T to Microsoft have tried to replicate the Apple Store experience, then refused to admit that they were trying to replicate the Apple Store experience. The backbone of the store is the Genius Bar, where Apple fans seek repairs, warranty replacements, and the wise counsel of the local council of Geniuses. What goes into the formation of a Genius? Gizmodo got hold of an Apple Store training workbook, and decided to tell the world.

The subject of most lessons? Managing people, not necessarily diagnosing iPhones. “The manual could easily serve as the Humanity 101 textbook for a robot university,” writes Sam Biddle. Only robots don’t need to be taught how to spread “Gadget Joy” to humans.

Like all training manuals, this material is probably read once and largely forgotten, but says a lot about how Geniuses and sales staff are to manage the expectations of customers: allowing them to feel empowered, but guiding their expectations.

How To Be a Genius: This Is Apple’s Secret Employee Training Manual [Apple]

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  1. SharkD says:

    Sigh.

    Of all the training manuals that I’ve seen, Apple’s are probably the least offensive/bizarre/condescending.

    • GenXCub says:

      I don’t know. Calling your front desk employees “geniuses” already sets the customer down on the “luddite” label though, doesn’t it?

      • JAlfaro87 says:

        Its all about sales. The basis of any sale as a sales person is the ability to control the sale. If this can be accomplished simply in designating a title to the “Salesperson/Repairmen” that establishes a strong seller vs. consumer relationship then great.

        As a former high end Men’s tailored clothing salesmen, nothing made me crazier than a wife who knew more than me about how to fit a gentlemen into a suit. I had my cards changes to specialist to attempt to address the problem.

        • fantomesq says:

          Apple’s Geniuses aren’t salespeople… they are technicians.

          • ecuador says:

            You have to use the term “technician” VERY loosely though. Like calling the kid who works the pump at the gas station a “mechanic”.
            And in the end they do push for upgrades etc like salespeople…

            • SharkD says:

              Genius training used to be 6-weeks, in Cupertino, with senior Apple engineers.

              It was essentially the same as Apple’s hardware certification course that was required in order to be an authorized repair shop, but with a bit better access to Apple’s engineering staff.

              About 3 years ago, mainly due to a backlog of Genius staff needing training, it shifted to regional training sessions. About the same time, initial pay for new Genius bar staff was slashed.

          • JAlfaro87 says:

            And I was abducted by aliens…

  2. Costner says:

    I think Apple gets a bit too much credit for the “store” concept. It was hardly their idea to open up a store that sells their own products and staff it with experts that are well versed about said products.

    I’m sure many other companies have done this before (I recall some store-within-a-store concepts at places like Office Max… or was it Office Depot?). I also remember the old Gateway Country Stores that sold Gateway PCs, did warranty work, sold accessories, and sold other Gateway products such as digital cameras and televisions. They also had onsite tech support and customer service.

    Gee… wonder what other store concept has all of those things these days? Maybe Gateway should use Apple for stealing their idea. Sure that sounds idiotic… but it couldn’t be any worse that suing someone for producing a rectangular phone.

    • do-it-myself says:

      Oh wow! I miss the Gateway Country stores! I remember going there and everytime wondering why all the computers there were better than my Gateway 2000 at home.

    • JAlfaro87 says:

      The difference is, those companies failed to make store concept work for them as result of inferior products….

      “Polish a turd” comes to mind…

      • Chuft-Captain says:

        There’s nothing “superior” about Apple’s products in comparison. They just did a better job getting the public to buy into their image.

        • floyd fan says:

          Except that the products ARE superior. Apple makes the hardware and the software, which means fewer compatibility issues and an overall better user experience. The software is (for now) less prone to virus infection, the hardware is well designed and durable.

          • Sian says:

            It’s only less prone to virus infection because with only 6% of the market, it’s not worth targeting.
            Also lack of competition (Apple people will buy apple things, everyone else will buy somethingelse) keeps them from pushing the limits of the technology curve like PC component manufacturers.
            Sure the hardware is well designed and durable. If you pay as much for a PC laptop as you would for a MacBook, it would be just as, if not more durable slash stylish. You just don’t get the option to go cheap instead with a mac.

            • boobaloob says:

              You get what you pay for. When I was a graduate student, the university once put a brand new Dell desktop computer on my desk. Less than 2 years later, the computer completely crashed out of the blue; the hard drive was wiped and unrepairable.

              I bought a MacBook pro in July 2007, and I’ve *never* had anything go wrong with it. It’s still kicking just fine.

              Can I ask (with no snark intended, btw) what makes you think that Apple doesn’t regularly push the limits of the technology curve?

          • luxosaucer13 says:

            It WAS less prone to virus/malware infection when Macs were PowerPC-based because the viruses and malware had to be rewritten from an Intel codebase to PowerPC (as well as from Windows to Mac OS) to infect a Mac. It wasn’t worth the bother for most malware writers to go through the trouble for 3-5% of the market. Security by obscurity is a FALSE sense of security.

            Now, Macs and PCs are equivalent (hardware-wise) and therefore are just as prone to malware. It’s easier to rewrite malware for Mac OS now than before, hence the annual Pwn2Own competitions. I find it humourous that even the “all-perfect” Macintosh is usually one of the first victims of each year’s Pwn2Own competition, as well as Safari.

            The only thing “saving” Macintosh users from more serious malware problems is their lack of market share. Macs aren’t inherently more “secure” than any other OS out there, as evidenced by Pwn2Own. For a vast number of malware writers, the “lower-hanging fruit” is a more attractive target.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pwn2Own

        • JAlfaro87 says:

          You still have a dell, don’t you?

    • Random Lurker says:

      Makita and DeWalt still have stores for their products, service and repair focused. The market is narrow for them (tool-using professionals) so there aren’t very many of them, but you can expect to find at least one in every major city.

    • Almighty Peanut says:

      the Bose store comes to mind too. I still see those stores while others have failed. Bose is a lot like the audio version of apple…

      • Unbeknownst2U says:

        Bose carved a nice niche due to its marketing; it is not even close to the pinnacle in audio, while Apple is the pinnacle of its industry.

        • luxosaucer13 says:

          I dunno about you but selling outdated hardware at vastly inflated prices while trying to convince the customer they’re getting the best because it’s shiny and has a fruit logo doesn’t fit my definition of the “pinnacle” of anything.

          • FreddyJohnson says:

            No, the pinnacle for you is a crappy, black plastic box with a bunch of flashing LEDs that looks like an alien so you can feel like a real powerful computer user. Funny how the Macs’ outdated hardware, at each iteration, trounces your shitty windows machines on Geekbench scores.

            With the “inflated prices,” I get the finest hardware and operating system money can buy, in an ecosystem that is a joy to use.

            • GreatZimkogway says:

              Only that’s untrue. The only reason they “trounce” anything, and even that, they both A: Don’t, and B: that’s opinionated, is because there are far less types and hardware to work with. Windows, and Linux by extension, can do anything, ANYTHING, a Mac can do, with better hardware, better software, at a FAR cheaper price.

              • FreddyJohnson says:

                No, what I said is A: entirely true, and B: entirely true. Look who the “cultist” is around here. Keep using your crappy, planned obsolete plasticky box, and your crappy, crashy, software on your crappy virus-infested windows machine.

                I’ve used windows. I’d shoot myself if I had to use that buggy POS every day.

                • zz9 says:

                  Windows PCs are “planned obsolescence”? I bought my PC in 2001 and am still using it. Of course the only original components are the case and the floppy drive, which I never use anyway. Everything else I have upgraded at least once because PCs are so easy to upgrade. I can replace or upgrade power supplies, hard drives, CD to DVD ROM to Blu Ray. A brand new 500w power supply cost me $60. How much does a new PSU for a Mac cost? Want to upgrade your motherboard? How easy is that?
                  An Apple user criticising a PC for planned obsolescence is a joke considering the Apple upgrade method is “Buy new Mac”
                  And you’re on the internet. You do use Windows every day. It, and Linux, is what serious websites use to run their sites.

                  • luxosaucer13 says:

                    not to mention the fact that Apple (aka Steve Jobs) owes EVERYTHING to BSD for their Mac OS X. Without the BSD core, they’d STILL be running a band-aided version of Mac OS 9.

                    I stopped running Macs when Jobs made the decision to switch from PowerPC architecture to Intel. Now they’re just a glorified PC.

                • Chuft-Captain says:

                  You’re defending a company that puts out a new, expensive phone and revises their music players every two years or less, and saying the other side has “planned” obsolescence?

                  BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

                • RayanneGraff says:

                  Oh, bless your heart. You’re the type of mac user that I love to get in my shop. You’re such a sucker for that little fruit logo that you’ll pay anything to get it fixed, all while denying that it actually broke to begin with.

                  I’m an actual computer tech, and I work on both macs & PCs daily. You know what the difference is between the two? THE NAME. Macs have the exact same hardware inside that shiny, elitist case, and they break & go obsolete just as much as PCs. You’re literally paying for a name & a shiny casing when you buy a mac. Congratulations on spending 3 times as much as anyone ever should for a basic computer. Apple is laughing all the way to the bank at smug tools like you.

                • Red Cat Linux says:

                  When people in Mac and PC camps start firing shots across each other’s bows, I try to point out that they are in the same damn boat.

                  It’s a sad state in IT, but all computer components have an eventual obsolescence. Including your beloved Mac.

                  If you buy a laptop (regardless of logo or OS) you are using a ticking clock that will one day cease to be as useful. Any laptop is upgradeable to only the slightest degree. Maybe put a bigger HD in it. With most PC-laptops you can add a newer wireless card. That’s about it. I don’t know if Apple can do either (anyone know?), but any laptop is a study in planned obsolescence.

                  My current PC I built in 2007 – I dropped about $1500 on it at the time, and upgraded components over the years and still use it for the latest and greatest titles. The only thing it does not do well is run an old version of Adobe Photoshop. But I’m cross with Adobe about that, and that I’ll have to upgrade it to a newer version.

                  Desktop Macs do have some upgradeability, but not the flexibility of most PC desktops. Sure you can build a Hackintosh on your own, but it’s a series of gyrations to submit to Apple’s very strict hardware compatibility list.

                  So, what does Apple do differently? Marketing and control of the hardware/driver/software environment. A sole source computer manufacturer. Did I say marketing?

                  Someone very dear to me tells me all the time that her Mac is Awesome, but she doesn’t have the slightest idea how to adjust her audio, it sounds awful on Skype and in game chats, and she insists that all the PC systems who can’t hear her well, but hear each other fine are the problem. She is not unique.

                  That, in a nutshell, is the underlying *headdesk* situation with Macs and why many of their users make me shake my head in wonder and no small annoyance.

          • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

            I think the last time I looked at specs for anything besides a gaming PC was maybe five-six years ago. For home use, it’s an absolute non-issue for most people.
            Up next: Which da Vinci thermometer is the right one for your family?

        • doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

          Don’t even get me started on Bose (Better Off with Something Else)…
          They had (HAD) some decent speakers way back when, but now everything they have is overpriced junk. Their advertising and the stranglehold they have on their distributors is the only thing that keeps them in business.

          • Pre-Existing Condition says:

            It’s all about image. Just look at Dyson vacuums.

            According to Consumer Reports, they’re average at best but cost 3-4x as much as their competition.

    • JonBoy470 says:

      Apple wins because they put bright modern-looking stores in high-traffic locations that people frequent (i.e. the mall). People went to the mall to shop for clothes/jewelry/shoes whatever, and Apple was able to suck them in and get them to buy a computer/phone/tablet thing. Which is something they never would have gone out of their way to do if the store wasn’t just there anyhow, and located between the mall entrance and the Abercrombie & Fitch they were actually planning on patronizing.

      Gateway went the appliance sales route. Computers are something you don’t buy very often, so you won’t mind driving to the ass end of nowhere that we built the store at because the real estate was cheaper. Did you ever go to a Gateway store back in the day?! They were a train-wreck… The stores were dark, poorly laid out, and didn’t actually stock inventory in the store, thus negating instant gratification, which is basically the only reason retail stores still exist. You’d drive to BFE to order your computer, which would be shipped to your house…

      • tooki says:

        You couldn’t be more mistaken.

        Apple Stores have proven to be such traffic-drivers that malls strive to acquire them, and other stores want to be near them. Go into a mall of your choosing on Tuesday night at 8pm. The Apple store will be teeming, the rest of the mall will be dead.

        So no, Apple isn’t benefiting from existing high-traffic locations; it’s without a shadow of a doubt a destination unto itself, which other merchants benefit from.

        Just one example: http://arstechnica.com/apple/2012/05/cities-offer-free-rent-other-incentives-to-bring-in-an-apple-store/

        • madanthony says:

          Now they are. Not 8 years ago when Apple first started opening stores, when they were still that weird computer that was used by hippies and had Motorola processors.

    • fantomesq says:

      Apple doesn’t get credit for the company store concept… it gets credit for making the company store concept successful. Apple makes nearly TWICE per square foot as the next closest retail store – Tiffanys.

    • Mulysa says:

      I pretty much only buy Apple laptops due to the “store” concept. I really tried to stick with non-Apples for a long time, but got fed up with having to deal with them when they broke. Not that the Apple laptop doesn’t break, but when it does I can get it fixed within a day or two and not have to deal with shipping it out. Dealing with laptops with no easy way to fix them is such a pain. If there were a store where I could bring in a normal laptop and have it deal with warranty work, and general repair with the manufacturer, I would go with them. But

  3. crashfrog says:

    Well, look. 90% of what’s wrong with your consumer electronics is the person using it. If Apple trains their tech support staff to manage the user, that seems like a really great idea. Especially compared to the other guys – Geek Squad, for instance – who are trained to baffle the customer with tech talk all to upsell unnecessary, high-margin product.

  4. Back to waiting, but I did get a cute dragon ear cuff says:

    So, Consumerist is being snarky about a company that puts more emphasis on how to deal with people to give them a good experience/feeling when they come in rather than pages of how to repair an item that will be replaced in a year, ignoring the customer interaction part?

    Most people that I have met that work at the genius bar work there because they like Apple products and have a basic understanding of how they work, along with basic (tier 2 at least) troubleshooting skills.

  5. StatusfriedCrustomer says:

    //The subject of most lessons? Managing people, not necessarily diagnosing iPhones//
    This makes sense, as I’d expect anyone I hire to be skilled in computer technology. The major variable is personality.

  6. sir_eccles says:

    You know what made me feel empowered? Walking in there with my wife’s broken Macbook a month before the warranty ran out.

    I felt queasy waiting though as I had to look at all the hipster glasses, skinny jeans, bad facial hair and disaffected attitude.

  7. Not Given says:

    Sounds similar to revenue agent training, how to get people to tell you things they didn’t mean to.

  8. Applekid says:

    Oh man, where can I get a full scan of the book? I love knowing these sorts of things. Seeing them in action is kinda like watching a movie where they say the title of the movie as a line.

  9. Press1forDialTone says:

    This is not surprising. As a 30+ year experienced IT pro from
    PCs to supercomputers, I often amuse myself by going into an
    Apple store and managing the employees instead of the other
    way around. It is very telling just how they are trained (Pavlov)
    they are and that the goal is: Do not ever give the impression that you
    know virtually nothing about how the products actually work and
    what your problem actually is. The point is: those geniuses are
    just regular sale people who drink special Apple Kool-Aid. They rarely
    directly answer any question that is the least technical in nature.
    Apple products are toasters and you are not supposed to know anything
    about them. If you don’t believe me read Walter Issacson’s book Steve Jobs.

    • lyontaymer30 says:

      You’re that bored?

    • samonela says:

      I look forward to responses to this.

      **Grabs unsalted popcorn**

    • tooki says:

      Let’s distill that post down to its emotionless essence: “Apple Store employees aren’t technical geniuses and know only the minimum necessary.”

      And? It’s not necessary for the majority of the employees to know a ton; they only need to know more than the average customer, and most people frankly are not technical experts. Some of the employees WILL be experts, and are available for other employees to refer to if necessary. Where’s the problem?!?

      • jeepguy57 says:

        Exactly… And given that Apple products are built to be simple and reliable, geniuses don’t need 30+ years if IT experience and that degree from Devry.

        • tooki says:

          Correct. And in my experience as a customer at the Genius Bar, the service I’ve gotten has been superior to what any other vendor offers to consumers.

    • jeepguy57 says:

      You don’t get out much, do you?

    • FreddyJohnson says:

      “I often amuse myself by going into an Apple store and managing the employees instead of the other way around.”

      Yeah, sure you do, “IT pro.”

    • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

      They aren’t technicians and don’t purport to be. They’re front-line clerks, and they seem to be better at their jobs than most front-line clerks. If you want technicians and engineers, then go through their support structure and find some.

      Are you expecting Apple to send senior engineers out to a store in Schaumburg to staff the iPod table?

      • tooki says:

        Geniuses are fully-trained technicians. There’s a repair room in every store. The stores have other people (whose roles have names other than “genius”) to do sales, etc.

    • nolitt242 says:

      Someone needs a hobby..

  10. Budala says:

    Aren’t the so-called geniuses only selling like 5 products anyway? (iPhone, iPad, iMac, itv and whatever their laptop is called)

    Give these sales more products and see how well they compare to real sales people.

    • tooki says:

      Geniuses are the tech support employees, not sales. The salespeople are “specialists” — it’s a different role.

  11. ThatCatGuy says:

    I’ve had to go to the Genius bar once (warranty trackpad fix). Since it was so busy I had to wait a while and I watched the genuisii at work. By and large I would have hired near every one of them (I’m an IT manager) as their customer skills were superb, the best I’ve ever seen in retail, outside of high-end car dealers. Their training works…..

  12. PeriMedic says:

    It seems to me that this is a non-story. I don’t see Apple hiring tech novices and training them up on how to fix their products by handing them a book. I see an interview, asking if they know how to do the job, then handing them a manual stating, “OK, this is our business model, customer service policy.” I work for the government, and my employee “manual” is filled with policies and procedures–not how to do my job.

  13. FreddyJohnson says:

    “The backbone of the store is the Genius Bar, where Apple cultists customers seek repairs,”

    Does consumerist think in any way that they are being clever crossing out “cultists” and replacing it with “customers”? There are many Apple users such as myself who enjoy the simplicity of the Mac ecosystem, which I have done for nearly three decades.

    Just because you’re not a Mac user (or an iPad or iPhone user), doesn’t mean that your sarcastic comments about Apple products are well accepted by those of us who do use Macs.

    The next time you want to write “cultists” and then cross it out (wink, wink! Aren’t I clever!), imagine where your Windows GUI would be today without the Mac and where your smartphone or tablet running Android would be without copying Apple’s interface.

    I’ve never been to an Apple Genius Bar, but I suppose the “cultists” who frequent those for help would be much better served than the “wise” consumerist who brings his shitty Acer, Dell or HP to the Best Buy Geek Squad for service.

    • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:
    • Chuft-Captain says:

      They’d be in about the same place. But good job handing over credit for pretty obvious stuff to Apple alone. I mean, it’s not like Apple ever copied anybody else, nooooo…

    • msbaskx2 says:

      I’m not an Apple owner (own a PC, use Windows at work, have an Android phone) and I agree, the cultist thing is just anti-clever.

      • JAlfaro87 says:

        You have clearly master the art of the “hard reset”…

        quick! someone upload a .gif and freeze his computer!

    • Mambru says:

      You adn the “IT pro” should go out for a coffee

    • RayanneGraff says:

      The next time you want to write “cultists” and then cross it out (wink, wink! Aren’t I clever!), imagine where your Windows GUI would be today without the Mac and where your smartphone or tablet running Android would be without copying Apple’s interface.

      Aaand this is where you completely lost all my respect because its obvious that you’re a kool-aid drinking mac cultist yourself if you actually believe this to be true. Are you kidding me? Apple has copied EVERYTHING in one way or another from someone else.

      The Apple GUI was based on the Xerox Alto’s GUI. This is well known. Xerox are the real inventors of the modern GUI, Apple just purchased the rights to the software & design back in the 80s & then claimed to have invented it. The iPhone was a copy of the LG Prada’s design, and iOS’s new notification system is a DIRECT ripoff of the system Android’s had for years. Tablets existed for a decade or more before the iPad came out too, it’s hardly anything new or innovative. Saying that Apple is the big grandpappy of all modern devices is literally a joke.

      Apple is a terrible company. They steal other peoples’ ideas & rather than actually innovate or come out with actual NEW products(instead of repackaging the same thing over & over again every year), they just sue anyone who gains a market edge in a blatant attempt to stifle competition. Its disgusting.

      • tooki says:

        Oh what horse baloney. Go and learn about Apple’s history.

        Yes, they were inspired (as in, the seed was planted) by the Alto, but the Mac has almost no resemblance in either design or operation. The Alto in turn was inspired by a presentation by Doug Engelbart, which in turn could be said to hark back to Vannevar Bush’s writings about hypertext, which predate electronic computers.

        So yes, everyone copies, if by that you mean building upon what people before them have done. But that’s in every field, in every art, in every discipline.

  14. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    I will take Apple ‘geniuses’ over the Geek Squad anyday (especially since BB bought them).
    Although I make my own tech support at home.

    • RayanneGraff says:

      I can agree with that. The Geek Squad is just awful, I interviewed for a job with them back in 06 before I knew anything about them, and even though I had the knowledge, they turned me down because my SALES skills weren’t good enough. I came in a few weeks later to buy a new HDD for my laptop after having called ahead to have them set aside the one I needed. Over the phone I had asked for a SATA notebook drive, I was very clear & concise about what I needed, yet when I get there the pimply-faced tool that they hired instead of me proudly hands me a full-sized external drive.

      Now that I’m a computer tech in a private shop, I get all kinds of people coming in saying that they were just at Best Buy & the GS screwed their computer up or couldn’t identify the problem. They’re nothing but salesmen with barely more computer knowledge than the poor schmucks they serve.

  15. madanthony says:

    I’m not sure why this is a big deal. Anyone who has ever worked in tier one tech support knows that it’s probably 70% customer service and 30% technical. There are a lot of people who get hired in tech support positions because they are technically skilled, but flounder because they don’t really know how to deal with people. It’s smart of Apple to make sure that the people who are going to be face to face with angry customers know how to deal with them in a manner that calms the customer down and maybe sells them some more Apple stuff.

  16. Anubis says:

    I work retail (not computers) and it sounds like there’s more to this than just good customer service. I know the store I work for prides itself on customer service, but does everything in its power to discourage real customer service. Employees are paid little, treated poorly, and get no training, but heaven forbid you forget to smile at every single customer or forget to try to sell them worthless items. Little wonder that we tend to do the minimum when interacting with customers and can barely muster the slightest enthusiasm when selling product.

    Sounds to me like you have people with some skill, training, empowerment, and who are doing something they love. I don’t know this for sure, I’ve never purchased an Apple product and never will (because they don’t have anything I want); but that’s what it sounds like to me. This makes the Apple store heads and shoulders above most retailers.