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How To Be A Genius: This Is Apple's Secret Employee Training Manual

We recently showed you just how badly some of Apple’s retail elite behave when no one’s watching, but surely they were taught better, right? You bet they were: Apple tells its new recruits exactly what what to think and say. How do we know? We read Apple’s secret Genius Training Manual from cover to cover.

It’s a penetrating look inside Apple: psychological mastery, banned words, roleplaying — you’ve never seen anything like it.

The Genius Training Student Workbook we received is the company’s most up to date, we’re told, and runs a bizarre gamut of Apple Dos and Don’ts, down to specific words you’re not allowed to use, and lessons on how to identify and capitalise on human emotions. The manual could easily serve as the Humanity 101 textbook for a robot university. But at Apple it’s an exhaustive manual to understanding customers and making them happy. Sales, it turns out, take a backseat to good vibes — almost the entire volume is dedicated to empathising, consoling, cheering up and correcting various Genius Bar confrontations. The assumption, it would seem, is that a happy customer is a customer who will buy things. And no matter how much the Apple Store comes off as some kind of smiling likeminded computer commune, it’s still a store above all — just one that puts an enormous amount of effort behind getting inside your head.

Bootcamp for Geniuses

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Before you can don the blue shirt and go to work with the job title of “Genius” every business day of your life, you have to complete a rigorously regimented, intricately scheduled training program. Over 14 days you and will pass through programs like “Using Diagnostic Services”, “Component Isolation” and “The Power of Empathy”. If one of those things doesn’t sound like the other, you’re right. Welcome to the very core of Apple Genius training: a swirling alloy of technical skills and sentiments straight from a self-help seminar.

The point of this bootcamp is to fill you up with Genius Actions and Characteristics, listed conveniently on a “What” and “How” list on page seven of the manual. What does a Genius do? Educates. How? “Gracefully”. He also “Takes Ownership” “Empathetically”, “Recommends” “Persuasively”, and “Gets to ‘Yes’” “Respectfully”. The basic idea here, despite all the verbiage, is simple: become strong while appearing compassionate; persuade while seeming passive, and empathise your way to a sale.

No need to mince words: this is psychological training. There’s no doubt the typical trip to the Apple store is on another echelon compared to big box retail torture; Apple’s staff is bar none the most helpful and knowledgable of any large retail operation. A fundamental part of their job — sans sales quotas of any kind — is simply to make you happy. But you’re not at a spa. You’re at a store, where things are bought and sold. Your happiness is just a means to the cash register, and the manual reminds trainees of that: “Everyone in the Apple Store is in the business of selling.” Period.

The Good Fight

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Although the indoctrination is usually skin deep, Apple gives new Geniuses a giant gulp of the Kool-Aid right off the bat. Page 39 gives a rundown of Selling Gadget Joy, by way of the “Genius Skills, Behaviors, and Values Checklist”. Selling is a science, summed up with five cute letters: (A)pproach, (P)robe, (P)resent, (L)isten, (E)nd. In other words, go up to someone and get them to open up to you about their computing desires, insecurities and needs; offer them choices (of things to buy); hear them out; then seal the day in a way that makes it feel like the customer has come to this decision alone. The manual condemns pushiness — that’s a good thing — but it also preaches a form of salesmanship that’s slightly creepy: every Apple customer should feel empowered, when it’s really the Genius pulling strings.

In Apple-ese, this is put forth in a series of maxims: “We guide every interaction”, “We strive to inspire”, “We enrich their lives”, “We take personal initiative to make it right”, which if swallowed, would make any rookie feel like they’d just signed up with a NATO peacekeeping force, not a store in the mall.

Empathy

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The term “empathy” is repeated ad nauseum in the Genius manual. It is the salesman sine qua non at the Apple Store, encouraging Geniuses to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”, assuming that mile ends at a credit card swipe machine. It is not, the book insists in bold type, “Sympathy, which is the ability to feel sorry for someone.” Geniuses are directly told not to apologise in a manner anyone would call direct. If someone walks in sobbing because their hard drive is fried, you’ll receive no immediate consolation. “Do not apologise for the business [or] the technology,” the manual commands. Instead, express regret that the person is expressing emotions. A little mind roundabout: “I’m sorry you’re feeling frustrated” or “too bad about your soda-spill accident,” the book suggests. This is, of course, the equivalent of telling your girlfriend “I’m sorry you feel that way” during a fight instead of just apologising for what you did.

The alternative to admitting that it simply sucks when an Apple TV is bricked or phone shatters, Geniuses are taught to employ the “Three Fs: Feel, Felt, and Found. This works especially well when the customer is mistaken or has bad information.”

For example:

Customer: This Mac is just too expensive.

Genius: I can see how you’d feel this way. I felt the price was a little high, but I found it’s a real value because of all the built-in software and capabilities.

(Emphasis added)

The manoeuvre is brilliant. The Genius has switched places with the customer. He is she and she is he, and maybe that laptop isn’t too expensive after all. He Found it wasn’t, at least.

The manual then, on the next page, presents 20 roleplaying scenarios for each trainee and a partner to work out using the Three Fs. Fun.

Human Beings 101

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Page 45 of the manual might’ve been good cargo to send with a deep space probe, as it’d help anyone unfamiliar with our species understand “Emotion Portrayed through Nonverbal Gestures”. Neatly broken into a “Positive” and “Negative” column and then again by categories, someone without any social calibration can easily learn that “blank stare” is a sign of “boredom”, and “smiling” indicates “openness”. Using your “chair back as a shield” is apparently a sign of “defensiveness”, as are “locked ankles and clenched fists”. Some make a little less senes: a “cluck sound” is equated with confidence, “unbuttoning coats” too means “openness”, “rubbing nose” is a giveaway for “suspicion or secretiveness”.

Tip: If you’re dealing with a new recruit at the Apple Store, don’t put your “hand on hips” or give a “sideways glance”, as you’ll come off as both “aggressive” and “suspicious”.

Things You’re Not Allowed to Say

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Negativity is the mortal sin of the Genius. Disagreement is prohibited, as are a litany of normal human tendencies outlined on page 80, which contradict the virtue of empathy: consoling, commiserating, sympathising and taking blame are all verboten. Correcting a mistaken or confused customer should be accomplished using the phrase “turns out,” which Apple says “takes you out of the middle of an issue” and also makes the truth seem like something that just arrived serendipitously. For example, on page 82:

Customer: The OS isn’t supported.

Genius: You’d think not, wouldn’t you. Turns out it is supported in this version.

This is really just an advanced, Apple judo version of the customer is always right. But then there’s the list of words that just straight up aren’t allowed, on page 30. The manual explains that “AppleCare’s legal counsel has defined [these] terms that should be avoided when discussing product issues with customers.”

Did your computer crash? No, it “stops responding”. Never say crash.
What if some Apple software has a bug? Wrong: there’s an “issue”, “condition” or simply “situation”.
You don’t “eliminate” a problem — you “reduce” it.
No Apple products are hot — at most they’re “warm”.

Switching “disaster” out for “error” might make sense to calm down a panicky client, but most of this is a straight up whitewash, the sterilisation of language that could very well be accurate for a given problem. Sometimes there are bugs, laptops do run hot and laptops crash.

“Fearless Feedback”


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Fearless Feedback is Apple’s term for institutionalised passive aggression. On page 58, it’s described as an “open dialogue every day” with “positive intent”. It’s most certainly not “telling someone they are wrong.” Except that it is — just prevented in a quintessentially Genius mode of masterful empathy and supercharged positivity aura.

On page 60, the following dialogue is presented as a realistic sample conversation between two Apple employees:

“Hi, fellow Genius. I overheard your conversation with your customer during the last interaction and I have some feedback if you have a moment. Is this a good time?”

“Yes, this is a good time.”

“You did a great job resolving the customer’s iPhone issue. I was concerned with how quickly you spoke to the customer. It seemed like you were rushing through the interaction, and the customer had additional questions.”

A few minutes later:

“Thanks for listening to the feedback. In the future, please make sure to signal me if you need help rather than work too quickly with a customer.

“Thanks for giving it!”

I asked several former Geniuses if this kind of robot-speak was ever used after it was required during training roleplaying.

“Never.”
“Only during core training, never on the floor.”
“Fearless Feedback was really hated around the place. If someone had Fearless Feedback, we would listen, but then afterwards I’d have this uncontrollable urge to punch them in the face. We all found it much more effective to get Fearless Feedback from the managers, which was more like feared feedback.”
“Sounds perfectly normal, until you watch the videos and think ‘who the f**k talks like that?!’”

No one. And yet on page 61, Apple insists this kind of inhuman speech “is essential to maintain Apple Retail culture” as well as your personal development”. But this isn’t a realistic way to expect anyone to personally develop. As much as Apple operates like a glistening hermetic mainframe, its underpaid floor workers will never function like the pearly gadgets they sell. It’s hard to expect them to, nor should we, perhaps, be surprised when these expectations of superhuman behaviour are replaced instead by misbehaviour.

But behaving, misbehaving or anything between, it doesn’t matter. The Genius system works, as detached from reality, astoundingly ambitious, sprawling and rigorous as it is. It works better than anything that’s ever come before it, and every Apple Store has the sales figures to back that up. Maybe it’s because the products sell themselves. Maybe it’s the zealot fan base. Or maybe the blue-clad agents really are inside our heads when we walk away from the Bar.