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.


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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.



    Don't you find the term "Genius" itself to be condescending? Apple's calls a young person who flogs their wares a genius. If they were a genius surely they'd be doing something worthwhile with their life.

      They're not marketed simply as "Geniuses" but rather "Apple Geniuses". I suppose if you spent your entire life/childhood growing up with the technology, you would be considered somewhat of an expert in it...

        I am offended by Apple's use of the term "Genius" in the same way that I am by Subway's use of the term "Sandwich Artist".

          Hey, hey, hey! Those Subway Foodslaves are artists of sandwiches.

            for once I thought I meant Rail Network! They do sandwich people!

        What a stupid reply Steve! No they are not geniuses by simply tinkering with computers while growing up. That's like saying we are all Master chefs because we cook dinner every night. Familiarity does not a genius make.

        Quote from Wiki" A genius is someone embodying exceptional intellectual ability, creativity, or originality, typically to a degree that is associated with the achievement of unprecedented insight."

      Why is the term Genius condascending?

        Because "genius" is a comparitive term. It's calling a retail lackey a "genius" compared to you. Quite frankly, referring to any retail worker as a "genius" appears quite inappropriate.

        You've either got to consider the term "genius" to be condescending to those not brandishing it or consider yourself to be a genius as well. Nothing else is consistent.

          The 'genius' title refers to the staff at the back who do hardware repairs and similar activities. They are not the retail sales people scattered throughout the store. While you may think this term is condescending, people generally do not make appointments with them if their computer knowledge is excellent (or even of an average user level). What I find most condescending and alarming is that you are belittling all sales people and suggesting that none of them are as intelligent as you, and that it is just absurd to think that someone in retail could be a genius. I would like to take this opportunity to point out that I work in retail (as a clothing "lackey" as you put it - not in an Apple store) while studying my Masters in Information Technology. I am not suggesting I am of genius IQ, but nor am I as dim witted as your post suggests of retail staff.

            You're taking offence for the wrong reasons, he's talking about the inappropriate use of the word as an official title, not as any sort of a measure of the person's actual ability, quite the reverse.

          How do we know they aren't geniuses? I worked with a guy in a retail store who used to be a medical scientist. He used to have to write 3 original thesis a year in which his company could develop into real world practices. He was a genius.

            Yet there he was working in retail...

        Because you can't spell

      The true genius of this business model lies in the ability to leverage prostitution and more importantly, be able to fake an orgasm.

    This brings back memories of my training days with David Jones.

    Wow... in that pic titled "the good fight"- why do corporations, schools, and universities all have this insane urge to write their own versions of the Bible/Koran? I deal with recruitment firms, mining companies, universities etc, putting their idiot aphorisms and inspirational life instructions in booklets, shirts, all sorts of things, so the poor workers and students can memorise that pap.

    Sounds like something from Scientology.

      It does, doesn't it. What would it be called - the iChurch of Applology? Or the Church of iTechnology?

      But it is evidence that Apple brainwashes its employees. So, how do they brainwash customers? Do Apple devices have embedded subliminal software that conditions the user to buy more Apple products, and to believe the Apple hype?

        Exactly what I was thinking. With the forced acknowledgements and the passive-aggressive questions used to avoid direct confrontation, it sounds like an audit session.

        It's also a bit Newspeak, where potentially thought-provoking words and phrases are banned, and everything is presented in a way to placate the unwashed, cash-bringing masses.

          I can see how you would think it's iChurch of Appology, I thought the same thing too. Then I realised that Apple has never uttered an Appology in its existence. iChurch of Patent trollology would be more Appropriate

    "The Genius" coming 2013, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.

    Although its slightly insane, at least they outline what they view as unacceptable actions in detail before you start. All throughout my first year of retail I was constantly reprimanded for acting in a way the company didn't find acceptable - ie. like a normal person.

    Reminds me of the Amway sales philosophy and pitch.

    Even though I am not a fan of "i" devices or their kin the fact that these tactics work on people fills me with admiration and dread in equal parts "vive la différence"

      I reckon each retail outfit should have a guidebook such as this. Itll give them a leg up on how to actually react to customers. Crappy as it may be some times - my crappiest Apple Store experience have always been above most of my retail-store experiences. This sorta things works - thats why apple stores are one of the most profitable retail space on a square by square basis. (US Data)

        They're the most profitable because their high priced goods are considered must haves by even the "dreariest" and poorest of consumers. If you manage to convince the world that they need your product to be "cool", have a monopoly on that product and price it accordingly, you will make a killing. If you then integrate your products so that one functions with the other and with nothing else (iTunes/iPods), then the world is yours

          They hardly have a monopoly on any area now. Android has about 80% of the smartphone market and are now also outselling Apple in Tablet devices. Apple are also being forced by consumer sentiment to provide features and screen sizes similar to the competition. They are following now, not innovating, which is a shame.

    Apple floor staff are fucking creepy.
    I had an awkward fake experience.

    From now on, every time I walk into an Apple Store, I will have my hands on hips, whilst keeping my jacket unbuttoned, hands clenched, occasionally clucking, glancing at the door whilst kicking at something imaginary on the floor .

    They'll either be confused or think I'm a large chicken.

      I'm guessing the Apple Genius will believe the later Mandroid.

      Apple Genuis 1 "Um Steve..."
      Apple Genuis 2 "Yeah John?"
      Apple Genuis 1 "Um, don't look now, but I think we have a large Gallus gallus domesticus in the store..."
      Being Apple Geniuses I don't think they would use the word Chicken, because you know, being super innovatively clever clever after all.

    I guess Apple are having to dig out the Feds business card again, just like they did during the iPhone 4 in the bar pa-lava.

    Meantime, how does one get to read this for themselves? Any chance you could send it over to the Google Books department. They'll have no probs scanning it in and upping it to the webz.

    I think the real Geniuses (Genii?) are the ones who managed to get the job of writing up a manual that never gets used passed training sessions.
    I'll wager they made a mint for what is ultimately just a re-write of that body language book that came out decades ago.

    I know that's a fake because the real handbook just says "be an aloof asshole to everyone" on page one, and "don't offer any real help or solutions" on page 2.

      The last time i was in an Apple store, to buy my wife an ipod for her birthday, i stood around for 20 minutes waiting to be served by one of these "genius'" only to get fed up and push my way past everyone to the counter and say "Is someone going to serve me or what?" Incidentally, this was the last Apple purchase i have ever made. She still loves her Red Gen 5 ipod nano from 2009, and that's all that matters.

      Page 3 has instructions for inserting things into the customers butt without lube.

    how to be an apple genius?

    - just act like a f$%^ing idiot

    my previous manager had some issue with his phone and came back from the apple store describing it as a glass fronted box of jerks. i wonder whats the training manual has to say about that

    I find Apple calling their support staff genius's to be offensive, unless they are actually employing people with an IQ of over 180 to do the support work. But then I would think anyone with an IQ of over 180 to be able to get better work.

    I can't stand walking into an Apple store, the clone training shows, I didn't need this article to know that everything they say and do is carefully choreographed and scripted.

    And they are not really at the 'Genius' level of knowledge either, there are plenty of things that they don't know. They don't know how to set-up Google Apps properly on a Mac or an iOS device being what comes up most of the time (This is a constant problem). I have also heard that quite a few staff couldn't work out why the location services was disabled. Their solution? Save everything and wipe the phone. My solution? Turn off the software restrictions which caused it in the first place!

    As a person who abstains from (almost) everything Apple. I actually went into the Broadway Sydney store the other day and bought an iPod shuffle. There were a few things that stood out.

    - The number of staff - this meant I got served promptly and was in and out within minutes.
    - The Point of sale hand held which meant I could pay where I was. No waiting in line
    - Someone, other then the sales person - brought out the fresh iPod. No trailing behind a salesperson
    - I could choose to have my receipt emailed to me. I'm never going to lose that receipt.

    I'm going to continue to abstain from most apple products. But I can not fault the experience. Especially given "Australian customer service" is almost an oxymoron. If a department store could provide service like this I'm sure more people would shrug at the Australia tax and move up to a great shopping experience.

    Apple are not alone with this brain-washing stuff - I did a 3 week 'Customer Management Skills' course 30yrs ago as a field service tech.
    It does have some merit as it shows how to react to aggressive customers and turn them around completely...
    I used to enjoy using the techniques but I think it does tend to make your conversations somewhat robotic if you are constantly having to use it.
    It's a handy tool to use in certain circumstances but I feel Apple and many other corporates are taking it way too far - as much as I love Apple stuff I will not visit an Apple store - in most cases I know far more than the people trying to sell the stuff and because I have done similar training I can see right through their guise...

    I was always under the impression that the Genius guys were purely technical support and actually had some level of Apple based certification to back that up, until I actually went in store. In a technical support role a 2 week course and being able to wrap words in marketing jargon does not back you a Genius. Atleast provide your staff with the technical knowledge to justify the name.

    I buy from the Apple stores because of their 2-week-no-questions-asked-refund policy. This is especially useful when I want to buy earphones since you can't try them before purchasing here in Aus.

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