Revealed: 10 big Apple Store secrets
In The Wall Street Journal, former employees dish on how the retail juggernaut tightly controls the customer experience
With its airy layout, glass staircases, and iHappy atmosphere, the typical Apple Store is a very, very pleasant place. That is, of course, no coincidence. A new Wall Street Journal report uses confidential Apple Store training materials and interviews with former store employees to give a behind-the-scenes look at just how the gadget giant stealthily shapes every customer's experience. Here, 10 secrets of the Apple Store revealed:
1. It's not about selling
Several customer service manuals note that employees should focus on solving customers' problems, not selling them new products. "Your job is to understand all of your customers' needs — some of which they may not even realize they have," reads one manual. Employees don't work on commission or have quotas to meet.
2. … unless we're talking service plans
There may be no quotas, but former employees say selling service plans along with iGadgets is a must. Those who don't ring up enough service plans are retrained, or given a different job.
3. There's a cutesy acronym
A 2007 employee training manual lays out the A-P-P-L-E "steps of service" with an acronym of the company name: "Approach customers with a personalized warm welcome," "Probe politely to understand all the customer's needs," "Present a solution for the customer to take home today," "Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns," and "End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return." It is reportedly still in use today.
4. Steve Jobs is very, very involved
Apple's CEO is involved in the minute details of the stores, giving input on crucial details, like what kind of security cables tether products to tables. One source recalls visiting Jobs shortly after his liver transplant two years ago, only to find the recovering honcho fussing over blueprints for future Apple stores.
5. The customer is always right (about pronunciations)
One Apple store employee recalls being told that he should never correct a customer who mispronounced the name of a product, lest they feel patronized.
6. Employees get canned for being late
Forget the 15-minute rule, and make sure your watch isn't behind (or just use your iPhone for the time). Apple employees can be fired for being more than six minutes late three times in a six-month period. Six minutes!
7. And they must stay positive
Genius Bar employees are trained not to use negative language. When they can't solve a technical issue, they're told to say, "as it turns out" instead of "unfortunately." A confidential manual also advises on the specific language to use with "emotional" customers. "Listen and limit your responses to simple reassurances that you are doing so. 'Uh-huh' 'I understand,' etc," it reads. "Apple is pretty controlling… to say the least," says Damon Poeter at PCMag.
8. … and keep quiet
Strange that your friendly Apple employee doesn't seem to know any of the widely reported rumors about the iPhone 5? It's probably all just an act. Employees are under strict orders not to discuss rumors about any upcoming products, or prematurely acknowledge widespread technical issues with a current product. Any employee caught writing about Apple is fired.
9. … especially if they're new
Why isn't that Apple employee even acknowledging you? He may just be new to the job. While undergoing training, recent hires aren't allowed to interact with customers. They shadow a more seasoned employee for a few weeks until they're ready to go their own way. Apple "spends a lot of time and resources on actually training its retail employees," says Bryan Chaffin at The Mac Observer. That's "something almost unheard of in the low-margin retail industry."
10. And about that Genius Bar appointment...
You booked your Genius Bar appointment online, showed up a few minutes before the scheduled time, and somehow you still had to wait an hour to talk with a "Genius." There's a reason for that. Wall Street Journal sources say Genius Bar appointments are typically triple booked. No wonder the bar is often swamped.