Working At The Apple Store: Tales From The Inside

The bright, friendly facade of the Apple store hides some weird stuff, according to current and former employees. Porn-stuffed laptops, positivity police and an anti-gossip gestapo: Welcome to the real Apple Store.

After the Wall Street Journal published an account of Apple's retail culture that was as sterile and cheery as Apple Stores themselves, we asked insiders to send us more colourful details about hawking Steve Jobs' pricey chunks of metal. And Apple Store employees had some tales to tell. Here's a selection.

Apple employees are banned from saying "unfortunately" when delivering bad news to a customer, urged instead to replace it with the more positive "as it turns out". And management apparently takes the ban seriously: One former Apple employee tells us that his coworker was put under a 90-day probationary period because he said "unfortunately" too much at the Genius Bar.

As it turns out, "unfortunately" is just one of a number of "stop words" that are not supposed to pass an Apple Store employee's lips. One Apple Store employee, who was fired in 2009 after two years, writes:

There was a whole class we took about things not to say, and what to say instead. One of my favourites was to resist the urge to say "That's stupid" or "That wasn't smart" and replace it with "That's not recommended" - For example, you say "I took my iPod swimming and now it don't work" I say "Ah, that's not recommended" when I mean "That was really stupid".

Also, problems aren't "problems" - they're "issues".

The linguistic whitewashing extends to relations between management and employees. One former employee who worked at an Apple store in New York City last summer says:

Managers were instructed to use specific buzz words and phrases when speaking to us. For example, "I'll reach out to you" was a good one. I would often get "reached out to" to attend mandatory store meetings. Even better was the phrase "what questions do you have," instead of "do you have any questions." They use the former because it's supposed to sound more open and welcome to questions. I just thought it sounded scripted. They used it a lot in the training program- I called them out on it and got a lecture on how to communicate with others.

Given some of the crazy bullshit employees have to deal with from their customers, we'd imagine it must be hard to keep up the act. An Apple Store employee of two years who worked as a tech support specialist and quit within the last two months writes:

The amount of porn I saw in data transfers blew my mind. Once a guy got a detractor because a customer blamed US for the fact that, when our tools transferred the data of their old computer over and put photos in iPhoto, there were hoards of gay pornography brought over. She couldn't possibly believe that maybe it was her 70-year old husband's doing. Yeah, because we put porn on your shit for fun, ma'am. No, I saw people get fired just for LOOKING in the photo albums of customer's computers to verify that, yes, the pictures had transferred. Not even trying to actually get into someone's personal stuff, just doing our job and making sure nothing had failed to transfer (because customers got angry if anything was missing).

But even when faced with vomit-soaked iPhones and cockroach-infected iMacs (both of which one Genius says he dealt with), Apple Geniuses must please the customer above all, or face the dreaded "detractor". The same employee writes:

Apple tracks what's called "promoters" and "detractors" and "passives." That receipt we e-mail you when you buy something? You can give us feedback from that e-mail… the system e-mails customers who have had appointments with us, and asks them for their feedback. Basically they are asked a few questions, but the one that comes back to us is "overall satisfaction." Apple expects a 9 or 10 from each interaction. If you get a 7 or 8 that's bad, it's a passive. A detractor automatically means a talk with management. This is another thing that was used to deny promotions and raises, or fire people. The worst thing? It's totally arbitrary. I had customers who loved me and would thank me for my work (because I treated them with respect) and then would give me a 6 because someone else misinformed them about something on a different, previous visit.

Trash-talking problem customers in the break room is a cherished retail tradition. But if Apple Store employees complain to their coworkers, they might get ratted out. "Employees are given no outlet to vent about such a high stress job," writes a former employee who was just fired (for planking!):

If you speak ill of a customer interaction or of a coworker and any employee overhears you, depending on how much kool-aid they've had to drink, you'll likely be reported to your supervisor. I can't count the number of times my coworkers and I have been pulled into the manager's office to talk about why we're so negative and what we're going to do to correct that.

Almost every current or ex-employee who emailed us they were worried about blowback from a secrecy-obsessed Apple and wanted to remain anonymous. (Many mentioned still-active Non-Disclosure Agreements.) According to a number of employees, Apple employees a team to scour Apple-related message boards and websites for signs of any current or former employees gossiping. One referred, fearfully, to Apple's "team of lawyers and data miners"; another called them "forensic internetters". It's all very Church of Scientology.

Not everyone who emailed us had horror stories to share. Writes one current, happy Apple Store employee:

All these employees that complain just have shitty managers. I love my store and have absolutely no problems there. My wage is fare for being a technician in a retail store of a mall. My hours usually stink but again, I work retail.

I've been certified by apple for mobile and hardware repair, FOR FREE. Flown to Cupertino for free and given a $US100/day food stipend. Who's going to complain about that? My managers are cool and never bother me.

Based on what we heard, the Apple Store seems like a great place to work if you are capable of stowing your ill will, cynicism, frustration and impatience - i.e. humanity - into a little box at the start of each work day and fawn over a stream of idiotic customers without complaint. No wonder people like shopping at the Apple Store so much.

Photos via Getty Republished from Gawker


Comments

    Anybody ever read 'Animal Farm' Oh, but don't worry cos Steve Jobs is one of those benign dictators, isn't he... well,... isn't he....?

      I was actually thinking of '1984' as I read the article..

    The main thing that would make never want to work for a Apple retail store is the fact that you can't vent about your job or the clients. My job offers 3 free therapy sessions a year and you can give you sessions to someone else if you choose do so, that and we can talk casual to each other so long as it doesn't affect our work.

    I'm pretty sure this "stripping away you humanity" is a requirement for most retail jobs, and not just exclusive to Apple stores.

      I completely agree... this is not just an Apple retail store thing! It's the same in any higher end retail stores. Sure the 14yo's at Target/Walmart might not give a sh*t about customer service, but I have worked for many retail places that have very strict policies about attitudes, language, do's and don'ts.

      This is still pretty interesting to see some of the stuff that goes on.

      It's true that this dictatorial behavior isn't unique to Apple but they take it to a whole new level.

      As for those complaining about the “promoters” and “detractors” and “passives” that is becoming pretty common. The company I work for also uses the same system and it works for us... more or less.

    Great stuff, really interesting.

    Like that last person said, I think it depends on the manager. It seems Apple needs to look at making sure they don't have douchebags running each store.

    By the way, "Apple employees a team" - "Apple *employs* a team". #corrections

    How dare they not be allowed to insult the customers, next they'll be telling me I can't drop a load on someones special order cheeseburger when working at maccas or punch the old lady who keeps arriving 5 minutes late to the doctors office when I HAVE PLACES TO BE GODDAMNIT.

    Haha love the little Apple suck job right at the end. Even if you got 1 positive email out of 100 you'd still report it. Fair and balanced eh?

      That last email seemed to...perfect for my liking, more like some fanboi or manager sent it in to make it look good

    Please don't call them Geniuses.

      It's ok if u say it sarcastically.

      "Hi, I'd like to speak to a... geeeenius."

    Gizmodo please tell the Happy Employee that either their wage is 'fair' or they are being overcharged for transportation!

    Whatever it is... it isnt as bad as being a chef with a nasty head chef. Lets not talk about flying knives...

    stalin jobs strikes again.....thank god he's gonna die soon

      I don't know if you can lay the blame at his door, although if he becomes aware of his culture (and there's no reason why he shouldn't), You'd be disappointed if he didn't do anything to change it.

      Personally I dislike employees that put on a show and feel they can't be honest. I appreciate people that are helpful and polite (ie not rude and don't ignore you), but that's as far as it needs to go- no uniforms, fake smiles, "special phrases" etc. When that starts I avoid the place.

    If this is Gizmodo's token effort to shake their total-Apple-fanboi image, then it gets a FAIL from me.

    What makes them think exercising this level of control over a company rep's behaviour is in any way unique to Apple, or even wrong? I once worked for small business where the owner insisted on 'sanitising' my speech, and behaviour and yes, I reacted. But now, I realise that when a person is being paid to represent someone else's business they are obligated to present the business the way the owners want. If you have a problem with that, you should preserve your integrity by working somewhere else. In the end that's what I did.

    The no-vent thing is interesting, but the rest of it seems like stuff that you get in many retail environments. It would seem there's a mix between making sure you're not negative about the products (no matter how stupid or ridiculous the claimed issue is) and trying to satisfy the customer. Sometimes, you just get dick customers.

    Nice to see an article on the apple store environment with some truth in it.
    I worked at one store for over a year. My time there did have its highlights, but it was stressful work with little financial reward. The cult like atmosphere cultivated by our initial training made dissent non existent. If I accidentally voiced a less than a positive opinion of an Apple policy or product in our morning 'download', the disappointed looks from my managers and colleagues were enough to make me rethink my views.
    There were no sales targets but poor salespeople were pressured out. A manager would take them to one side at the start of the day and ask 'how many owners do you think you'll create today?' They'd give themselves a target of 'creating' 4 or 5 mac owners. If they made the target, hi fives all round! If they didn't make the target, the manager would increase the time they spent coaching (pressuring) the staff member to improve. This process would repeat until the staff member would either become a sales machine or quit. Some quit, some became top sellers.
    This leads on to another point. No commission was paid, but a huge focus was put on sales. League tables of salespeople were updated daily and prizes were given out to the people with the best addon rates for one 2 one and applecare.

    The Apple store clearly offers a vastly superior customer experience the vast majority of other retail stores. However, the cult like methods they use and the general fakeness behind the glossy Apple store machine leaves a bad taste in the mouth for me. That said I'm sure working at Apple is no worse than any other retail job. I just expected better.

    Having worked with two large Australian retailers (one sometimes referred to as "Hardly Normal", the others name had something to do with offices), I can say that most of what is mentioned applied to them as well. Not so much the no-venting policy, but the rest of the customer interaction guidelines. Theres nothing new.

    Feedback (and specific ratings given by customers to evaluat their last interaction with support etc) is nothing new either, had that at call centers I've worked at. Granted Apple may be taking it to another level, but this article could have been written about any other retailer - just a cheap jab at Apple it seems.

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