Apple's "secret" Genius training manual


Gizmodo acquired a copy of the Apple Genius Training Student Workbook. At the Apple Store, computers don't "crash," they "stop responding;" software never has a "bug," it just has an "issue;" and products don't run "hot," just "warm." From Gizmodo:

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 empathize 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.

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


  1. A manual for retail employees that trains them how to sell? Is this, at long last, what humanity has sunk to? //weeps quietly

        1. I’ve been a salesman.  Believe me, tremendous contempt is leveled at sales people and sales skills in general.  And I can’t see her quirky little smile.

  2. I love the sort of incredulous tone that the Gizmodo person uses. It’s almost as if Apple is a carefully managed brand and there is some sort of formula that they use to set themselves apart from the others that try to fill the same retail space.

  3. I dunno about the Genius people being trained to “sell”.   To me they seem to be post-sales as a very effective way to build brand loyalty.

    I avoided the Genius Bar for a long time thinking it would cost me an arm and a leg.  However I’ve been twice to fix my broken Macbook and both times they were able to repair it perfectly for no charge.  The second time, there was even supposed to be a $100 fee for leaving it with them over night and the guy was kind enough to waive that fee.  It’s a used laptop and I don’t have Applecare or anything.  Maybe my case is atypical but I didn’t feel like any sort of sales push was taking place.

  4. “But you’re not at a spa. You’re at a store, where things are bought and sold.”

    One of us is apparently unclear on what a spa is.  Christ what a non-story.

    1. I remember when I first realized that my massage technician was really just rubbing my temples with lavender oils because he figured he could make a few bucks off me that way. The betrayal I felt was so soul-crushing that it was years before I could bring myself to get another exfoliating body scrub.

  5. “Sorry I’m late for work, my commute was a warm mess. I got distracted when a huge issue hit my windshield and stopped responding into a tree.”

  6. Other Apple®-certified euphemisms include:

    teh lulz…………..the laughters out loud
    Android…………(facial expression as though you are tactfully ignoring flatulence)

  7. I’m a technical writer. Sometimes those of us behind the scenes will spend hours trying to convince programmers how awful some of the bugs are for the user but  just can’t get them to make the fix, and then we are stuck explaining and supporting a buggy program. When it comes to having to present the problem in a technical bulletin or a user manual, it’s not professional to use terms like “crap out” or “freeze up.” These technical documents are still part of marketing the product. 

    It makes sense that Apple would have to spell this out for their “Geniuses” because they are mostly young people with little work experience. I think it’s a good idea. I’m not sure what the problem is with this.

    1. as a designer who often has to deal with the same issue of: I am a programmer everything I do is really, really clever what do you mean it’s a user unfriendly piece of crap (even when you tell them very politely).

      Case in point = working on a sign up form, which the programmer wired in totally ignoring any style guides provided, which appeared out of sight at the bottom of a very long scroll – he refused to understand that anybody visiting the page would assume it empty & therefore broken and not spend the time scrolling to find the interactive element which had been coded (apparently) so elegantly.

      sheesh – it may be elegant but it’s also fucked beyond belief, this attitude is what is wrong with a great deal of the web and a lot of programmers, I’ve met, need to remove head from arse.

      yes, rant over, I am on-board with making sure any interface (meat space or otherwise) is as usable and friendly as possible whether direct or through an intermediary.

    2. You don’t see a problem with using euphemisms to distract from problems rather than fixing them in the first place?

      That’s an ethical abyss.

      1. Having done tech support, I think there’s an argument to made that everyone doing so desperately needs this kind of training. Communicating is hard, especially between technical people and lay people.

        crash, bug, freeze, none of these are clear or descriptive. Customers misuse them or just don’t understand them. It’s, quite simply, bad language to use in service capacity.

        1. I don’t personally find that it aids communication when a customer service rep talks like HAL.

          1. Most people aren’t comfortable with computer programs, even if they work on computers all the time. A lot of people have figured out how to do a few tasks, they do those things and avoid learning anything else because computers intimidate them. So, to sit there and point out a bug that results in the program closing and blow it out of proportion, well, that’s not helping the user get over her fear. However stupidly the program is designed, it’s helpful to have a positive attitude and teach people that the program is something they can work with. If I act like OMG the program is so buggy and all of us here at the company hate how it works, well, how is that helping the person who has to use it every day to get her job done, or the person who wants to do more with her computer than she does right now? Most computer programs do a lot more than people know, and getting people to be more fearless and explore the options is the best way of helping the customer. I think acting like a bug that causes the program to hang up or shut down is not a huge big deal but just a part of normal computer behavior is much more useful than scaring the user into thinking anytime they try something new the computer is going to for no reason shut down and it’s all part of this mystery box they can never understand.

        2. Well, a lot depends on if you believe that Apple is using this language to help the customer through a difficult experience or if they are using it to distract the customer and maintain their image.  This paired with the fact that Apple has had huge issues admitting that things like security flaws and even basic design flaws (think the “Antenna issue” on the Iphone) makes me at best suspicious.

          1.  I’d rather the Apple employees could use their own judgement on how to speak. Euphemism abuse can come off as condescending or patronizing. Some customers would rather you just called a crash a crash.

      2.  I’ve worked in tech support for many years – never for Apple, and from day one I was told not to use negative terms.  It’s not a problem, it’s an issue.

        To a large part it’s about managing the customer experience – generally people will tell 4-5 people about a good experience, but 12-16 about a bad one.  So you do everything to make it a good experience and using neutral or positive terms is a big part of that, especially in phone support where you don’t have the nuance of body language to communicate mood and confidence.

      3. The problem often is that the customer comes in with a mindset that the product is full of bugs and crashes, which is, 99 percent of the time, not the case. Having the tech support person approach the ‘problem’ with the same mindset and language is counter-productive. 

        I think it’s better to have tech support approach every customer interaction like an opportunity for education and empowerment, rather than an invitation to a bitch session on how stuff just doesn’t work. That’s the big picture. If you can do that and still use words like crash and freeze, no problem. That’s small detail stuff.All of which is to say that good tech support is more art than science, in the end.

      4. These aren’t euphemisms. They are more accurate technically and reflect what the OS tells you. The spinning ball in OS X occurs when the application is ‘not responding’ and this term is used if you attempt to force quit it. Often the ball will go away and the application will ‘start responding’ again. i.e. it didn’t crash in the first place. 

        Likewise the use of the word ‘bug’. People may install other software that can cause ‘issues’ with the OS. If you start off with the assumption with the idea the OS has a bug then you’ll miss this possibility. Issue is a more accurate term that includes bugs. Consider the question: “Does the bug occur when you log in to another user?” Doesn’t make sense, because if it doesn’t occur then it’s not a bug in the first place. “Does the issue occur?” is better.

        In other words, the whole point is to fix the problems. Not as you content to distract from them. 

  8. Shocking. Shocking, that Apple takes as much care selling their product as they do making it.

    And why can’t Gizmodo give a link to the manual instead of spoonfeeding us bits and pieces?

    1. any company one one-hundreth the size of Apple is going to do the same thing. hell, i’ve worked in restaurants that have tighter controls over employee language. this is such a non-story.

  9. I’m going to flip this on its head for a minute. Why -not- use these techniques? Why -not- give this training to anyone who works with customers. 

    I use many of these phrases to get things done, and both the end users I work with and my management agree – it contributes to my effectiveness. But I get it. Apple is evil because they practice psychological training to give their employees a tool to be effective as a store employee. That’s not a part of standard branding at all. Certainly not something you would ever use in your private life either.

    Cool to read, helpful for those who are particularly suceptible to marketing, but I’m missing the part where it’s as shocking as Mr Biddle seems to think it is.

    1. Why -not- give this training to anyone who works with customers.

      Customer service is supposed to benefit the customer. These instructions are not meant to benefit the customer; they’re meant to get the customer to shut up.

      1. I’ve never tried to get a customer to shut up. Where is that even implied here?Words like “bug” and “crash” have negative connotations that can lead the conversation down a path that does not lead to a solution. Do you want the problem fixed or do you want to be angry and confrontational?

        1. Do you want the problem fixed or do you want to be angry and confrontational?

          Well that’s certainly a hostile and threatening attitude toward customers.

          Words like “bug” and “crash” have negative connotations that can lead the conversation down a path that does not lead to a solution.

          Perhaps if you believe that customers are irrational animals who need careful behavioral management.

          Customer management =/= customer service.

          1. “Well that’s certainly a hostile and threatening attitude toward customers.”
            Those words were directed at you, not a customer standing in front of me. Something like that will get you fired, quickly.

            “Perhaps if you believe that customers are irrational animals who need careful behavioral management.”

            I would never say a person is an animal, but I have dealt with an uncountable number of irrational customers, with real issues or concerns, who have been calmed down enough to then have their problem solved in a matter of minutes. And choosing the right words to use can make a situation much easier. I would think that would be obvious.”Customer management =/= customer service.”Absolutely Customer management = Customer service.I am going to go out on a limb here and say you have -zero- experience in this field. But that’s just a guess.

      2. Customers would like to think that “customer service” is supposed to benefit them…but that’s never been true.

        Customer service exists to make people with problems a little happier and more likely to keep buying things.  Period.  No retailer would offer any service at all if they could get away with it.  Just look around, in some niches where strong monopolies exist…there’s little to no service at all.

        If you want service the sole aim of which is to fix your stuff and “benefit” you, you want to go to a service shop, not a retailer.

      3. The thing about tech support of any kind is that in order to help the customer, you DO need to get them to shut up. I know that sounds bad, but its a little like trying to rescue someone who is drowining, if they keep thrashing around, they are impeding their own rescue. Should you expect someone in such an extreme situation to behave rationally? no, but it doesnt affect the outcome either.
        Do you expect that the majority of customers can use technical language as it is intended? A bug refers to a fault in software, and if a customer can’t get his emails and claims its a bug, you are not doing him a favor by acknowledgin right of the bat that there is indeed a bug, especially if you don’t know whats wrong yet.
        I’ve heard customers claim that a device is running hot, at what temperature is something hot? usually its a the temperature tha the customer decides is too hot even though it might be normal operating temperature.
        The problem really is that these people need to use incorrect terms in the first place, they use “Issue” because they do not know what it is and to use soemthing that they would use with other tech will usually result in omre confusion with the customer.

        Now, if your worried about ethics, it really depends on the outcome, IF you tell your customer what was wrong after you fix the issue, then I see no problems at all with this. But IF you only handwave the problem away, then you might be getting into unethical behaviour. Of course, many times this means that you have to tell the customer that they broke their own machine and they just love to hear that.

      4. Strongly opinionated moderator is alone? 
        Although I like BoingBoing an awful lot, having a Moderator weigh in repeatedly with such a strongly opinionated tone (and beige background) is a bit iffy. Hope you don’t put me on a blacklist or something for my opinion.

        Although I have plenty of reasons to hate as an Apple owner and developer, this is one of the weakest really.

        I mean who would have believed that the company with a highly controlled walled garden, strongly unified design and best of its class user experience would have their lightly trained post-sales support engineers given the most advanced training in managing customer psychology and expectations? 
        Although the manual is certainly repellent to human dignity given that it is a sales manual after all, which is what is setting you off I think, it sounds like they are solving problems efficiently for free. Though I have no experience at the Genius Bar (and I really detest the name) I have yet to see proof that they are “using euphemisms to distract from problems rather than fixing them”.
        That said it is also plenty true that “issues” and “stops responding” are in fact the correct terms a professional developer would want to use. If the application dies and the crash feedback dialog appears then you can say fatal crash or whatever. Most of my mac issues happen when I am overloading the system (maybe with crashplan, antivirus, opening many huge images, using up RAM, etc.) that otherwise I would expect the very enjoyable and competent Mac OS X to handle perfectly, like say BeOS seemed to do with a lighter workload. 

        Now some good reasons to hate might be when your Mom tries to upgrade her iMac to the latest OS and instead gets her system trashed, or when hard disk dies she loses her apps despite having Time Machine, or when you get stuck on New Years trying to copy songs onto a child’s iphone, or their trashing of the Apple ///, or suing rivals to keep them out of the market, or making OS improvements focus on social networking, or making a CEO a saint, you know the usual seething anger targets. Grrr! But telling salespeople to tone down their language and smile luminescently at all times is not on the top of my grudge list.

  10. ISEB/BCS has clear descriptions on what a defect and an issue etc. are so I’m not surprised Apple teaching their staff about these. On the other hand, not talking about running hot is just plain user management techniques that should be avoided since they are typically dishonest.

  11. I’ve got a copy of a Microsoft style guide sitting here that says not to say a program “crashes”, too.  And a Sun style guide that says that programs “fail” instead of “die”.  It’s not a huge conspiracy.  It’s called writing.

  12. this is stupid.

    people who are not computer-savvy will likely not even know what “crash”, “bomb” or “hang” mean in the context of a computer problem.

    and it’s not like “stops responding” and “unexpectedly quits” are happy, fuzzy euphemisms; they’re not disguising anything.

    trying to get your tech support people to speak accurately without cutesy techie jargon isn’t nefarious, it’s just common sense.

  13. The “bug vs issue” thing is interesting, because the terms are not interchangeable.  A “bug” is behavior that is not what was intended by the design (an error).  An “issue” is behavior that is perhaps not good but is working as designed.  I doubt that they intend to say that all undesired behavior is “as designed.”  Personally if some software I wrote is behaving badly, I’d prefer to have people think that I made a mistake in programming it rather than that I intentionally made it that way.

    1. Sure, but your customers don’t know that, not on the whole anyway. And before you know the root cause, its pretty bad form to label it anything. And marketing types dont want reps saying problem because they believe that customers will remember this as a bad experience if you do.  So it is a little about being accurate and another little bit about politics.

      The worst part is that its true, depending on your language, even with the same outcome, customers will think of your service as good or bad.

      There is an art to making customers happy.

  14. The only issue I have ever had at an Apple store is the crowd of people in it.  The actual sales people have been super informed and friendly.
    Buying my iPhone there was an awesome experience.  Sales person took me thru the whole phone step by step, set it up, suggested a couple of first apps and by the time I left he had spent almost an our with me answering my questions.  My daughter got her Droid at the Verizon store and has never used it to the same capacity as I have my iPhone.
    So the non-store here is:
    Apple is soooooo evil, what with their education and help booooooo?

  15. Soo….I’m maybe not Apple’s target demographic but if I had someone working on a computer for me I would much rather hear that person use terms like “fubar” and “hosed” than “issue” and “stopped responding.”

    1. I’m sure you could find such a technician out there, just not at the place where their main job is to sell you said products.

      1. Right.  I’m pointing out that this has more to do with a superficial veneer of professionalism than with actual technical competence.  Personally, I’d prefer to buy hardware from people who care enough about the technology and culture to use the more colorful and esoteric terminology.

      1. FUBAR has been part of computing lingo for decades, along with many other GI Joe terms.  foo and bar are commonly used as off-the-cuff identifiers when discussing code.  So…. wysinwyg’s example is not an odd choice at all.

    2.  But you see, that’s you, and would you really want somebody telling your grandma that something is fubar? The problem for many people is that they want personalized service from companies that have to be able to reproduce their business model in a hundred different places.

      This is of course where it all comes down to the people skills of each rep.

      1. “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” George Carlin

  16. I have no problems with Apple employees using this kind of terminology.

    What I have a serious problem with is that for those of us who don’t live near an Apple store the online customer service is absolutely useless, and talking to a customer service person on the phone isn’t better when the only answer I can get it, “I can’t help you over the phone. Take it to an Apple store.”

    1. Having done both of these jobs (for Apple) I can tell you that some “issues” have to be addressed in person. Can’t replace a hard drive over the phone…

    1. No, They stop responding. just keep watching the spinning beach ball o’death while telling your self that it will respond sooner or later. Or just reboot and hope for the best.

  17. I once had a mac G4 ‘stop responding’ so hard smoke blew out the back, it was pretty incredible 

  18.  Did it shower sparks all over as well?  That’s what one of ours did.  The poor operator screamed and ran.  Was last seen departing via the fire exit as a couple of us smacked the flaming bits to death.

  19. I appreciate this attention to detail in customer service and it is part of why I like buying from the apple store.  Am I going to have problems with my computer?  yes.  When I deal with someone attending to it, I would much rather them say “it’s stopped responding” instead of “uh oh, it seems to have crashed”  This is just good customer service, and not just in the name of the almighty dollar, but also in the name of “when bad things happen try to help soften the mental blow”

  20. It’s a straight-forward sales pitch.  The candor of the manual can be likened to that of Coke’s H2NO program which can had customers trading tap water for paid coke or bottled tap water.

  21. Presumably, somewhere in thie manual, it instructs the Genius to say “It’s supposed to do that” when confronted about the expanding/exploding MacBook power supply.

  22. During a casual visit to the AS I was checking out something or another, and an associate did the whole ‘can I help you find something’ intro while lightly touching my shoulder with his hand (from behind, I didn’t see him coming).  YMMV, but that put me right into instant defensive-mode.  Is that something they’re trained to do, or was this particular guy just being extra casual?  I think it’s pretty inappropriate for touching of any strange customer unless you’ve just made a sale and are shaking hands mutually or some such.

  23. I was recently told by an employee at an Apple Retail Outlet that I would have to go thru a third party retailer to purchase an OS upgrade.  Essentially they told me they couldn’t help me and to go elsewhere.  
    One call to Apple support later and I have my OS upgrade in the mail…. 

    1.  I had a similar experience while purchasing an iPad – I was interested in finding out  if there was an app or setting that would allow me to connect to my Windows-based NAS from it, and was told that such a thing did not exist.  
      Once I started searching at home in earnest, I found FileBrowser (a great app!  Also plays music files remotely, displays images, etc.) fairly quickly.

  24. In my experience, Apple’s philosophy seems to be, “Make them happy, and they will probably come back later to buy more of our stuff.” So far, I’ve been coming back for more than 20 years. I guess it works, and both sides go home feeling good. If only most of life worked that way.

  25. One thing to keep in mind with this language training:
    Geniuses are allotted 15 min to figure out what’s wrong with your computer. While sometimes they go over that time, 15 min or less is the goal. The language suggestions they make help to keep what is often times a very heated situation under control and moving towards a resolution. I was a genius for a little over 3 years and when I went through the initial training thought those buzz words were bs. Quickly I found myself using that language, not because of the training but because it works. I would regularly have old men threaten to hit me and 16 yr old girls crying when they first came to my bar and 15 min (or less) later I has them (to use another apple buzz term) back to Mac. They didn’t leave loving me and apple because I promised them the stars, but because they trusted me and knew that I really would make sure we would do our best to (are you ready for it) get to yes.

  26. “You always write it’s bombing, bombing, bombing. It’s not bombing, it’s air support.” – Air Force Colonel during the Vietnam War

    But in this case, I think it’s OK for Apple to avoid using negatively loaded language, provided that the more tech-savvy, impatient client can request the employee to “cut the crap and get to the point”, so to speak.

    1. In my limited experience the tech-savy impatient client is usually one of those things, not both.

      1. You may be right.

        Last time my Mac fell prey to kernel panics and the like, the Mac technician (not a Genius, this was an authorized dealer in Mexico) started out with the training-speak, then corrected course and ditched the soft language when I talked about “black screen and three beeps, that means RAM”, about testing the RAM chips and slots by switching and running memtest, etc.  We had a very good talk, impatience nowhere to be seen.

  27. I’m kind of surprised so many people seem to enjoy being manipulated. Then again…I’m not.

    1. Out of curiosity: What’s your reaction when a salesperson you approach states blandly and without any real interest “What do you want?”.

        1. Ah, there you are. The rest of the population – about anybody who doesn’t have clear symptoms of Asperger – would take slight offense.

  28. What is wrong with diplomacy?  Those terms cited are not euphemisms they’re alternate words for the same thing.  They’re not in denial that there’s a problem.  If I crawl under a car to fix something for some lady stranded, I do not use my anglo saxon while in her presence.  I save that for my fishing buddies.

  29. A big part of this, and something I am not really seeing here, is Apple’s attempt to provide a uniform, consistent customer service experience across all of its retail stores. It is a very deliberate effort to ensure that customers will hear the same language and tone regardless of the physical location and that has for years translated in to a comfortable customer. Obviously it’s not appealing to 100% of the masses, but it’s been proven over and over that people by-and-large appreciate a customer experience that’s consistent among locations.

    I assume some people here were Apple customers before they had their own retail channel and before the did online BTO options. Anyone remember what buying a Mac was like before that? You either went to an authorized Mac retailer (which were usually pretty cool) or you went to a big box store like Sears or something like that. The display Macs were usually in a state of total disrepair / vandalization, the sales people knew nothing about them, and there were three trillion models of the same machine from which to choose.

    Taking very tight control of their retail presence was a huge piece of Apple’s turn-around and like it or not, the customer has responded.

    I have to ask the naysayers, how did you think that Apple created such a unified experience across their stores?

  30. How many ways can you say “Sorry, can’t do anything, but we’ll give you 10% off on a new one”?

  31. When dealing with people’s pay, I try to avoid negatively charged language because it just makes them even more anxious until the problem is worked out. I don’t see any issue at all with avoiding certain language as long as you’re still routing out the problem.

  32. Considering how wealthy of a company it is, I’m sure they spent a lot of money on the psychology of their stores.  One thing that stood out to me was how they handle cash.  There is no formal cash register, but instead those tables that are spread throughout the store with the computers on them have hidden cash drawers at the ends. Its odd because  there are no lines to buy things, only lines to get some kind of service on something you already bought. 

  33. Rule #1:
    Deny faultiness of a product, even though a five second Google search will reveal that forums are awash with identical cases, pretend it´s the first time you ever heard of that “issue”.

    1.  Well, yes.
      When you talk to people about theyre problems, its been my experience that they get annoyed when its a simple thing, many times customers walk away mad that they had to go to so much trouble to get help for such a simple issue! some customers get mad at themselves because they realize that they should have known better, other customers get mad at you because you somehow failed to make ti obvious for them. but when you tell them that its an uncommon problem you can see their eyes light up! its like they hit the jackpot, they’re at least thankful that all this time wasnt wasted on getting to talk to you.

  34. My father used to have the owners manual from a Rolls Royce (never had the car, sadly, just the manual.) It helpfully informed the owner that their fine new Rolls Royce automobile would never break down….but may occasionally “fail to proceed…”

  35. Looking forward to reading this in a bit. From the photo and blurb it simply looks like well crafted marketing. At a restaurant I worked at once we could never call the bus boy towel a ‘rag’. Cleaning supplies where never soaps at one janitorial firm too. These scripts have always been from companies that work hard on their ‘image’. Pretty stupid when you think long & hard about it.

    When the Disney store first opened in the 90s with their new hires, their speech seemed scripted as well. Once comment or conversation seemed to always shift to a new Disney film just now out int theaters too. Would love to see that training manual.

  36. Former Mac genius here from about 4 years ago. There was nothing of this sort when I worked there, and using the word “sell” at all is ridiculous because the geniuses don’t sell anything, they fix and help with the products.

    We were sent to Cupertino for 2 weeks to practice repairs and get certified. There was also a mock Genius Bar where we practiced different situations that came up from a “what to do when x happens” stand point.

    Actually working there had nothing to do with sales. You worked 75% of the time on the bar, and the other 25% in the back doing repairs. We had massive lee-way in making the customer happy. I frequently replaced stock, many times when it was out of warranty just to make someones day. Apple knows that happy customers lead to word of mouth and looking at their growth, the cost they lose on giving things away is more than made up by making loyal customers that spread brand awareness.

    They had some silly lingo, but in general it was a store full of happy employees making customers happy. 

  37. The whole “feel, felt, found” thing is nothing new; we were taught that in Radio Shack 20 years ago.

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