The Five Dirty Words Apple Geniuses Can Never Say At The Bar

Genus-Bar-BThose of you of a certain age will appreciate the reference to the late George Carlin’s incredible media rant of the 70s about “The Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television” (Class Clown album, 1972). But decades later the dark art of sanitized speech is not being enforced by uptight network censors and the prudes of the FCC. It is being promulgated at your local Genius Bar.

In a wonderful coup, tech site Gizmodo has gotten its mitts on a copy of Apple’s own “Genius Training Student Manual.” It appears to be, in Gizmodo’s breathless retelling, a primer in using language and behavioral monitoring to guide the customer toward feeling happy, happy, happy about the Apple brand when they leave.

But first the words a Genius is never supposed to utter.







Or at least those are the five visible in Gizmodo’s image of the Do Not Use column in the instructional chart “Get to Yes by Avoiding Negativity.” Talk about channeling the Zen-Steve.

Your iPad did not “bomb,” “crash” or “hang.” It just “stopped responding.” You don’t have a “bug” or even a “problem” in that iMac. It is more like a “condition” or a “situation.” This reminds me of another Carlin routine in which he compares the pastoral terminology of baseball (field, bases, home) to the militaristic ones of football (goal, advance, penalty).

In this case, the Apple manual appears to train the Genius to manage the exchange between customer and Genius at every level. Not only is language managed, but so is tone. The Genius is taught to respond empathetically. In sample exchanges the Genius even shares the customer sentiment that he thought the price of a Mac was too high…until he really experienced the “value.”

And the Genius you work with at the Bar is not only well-versed in the Apple machinery. He or she is supposed to be adept at working your levers and buttons, too. Part of the training involves outlining basic body language so the Apple staffer can read customer attitude in gestures. Short breaths indicate frustration, as does a palm to the back of the neck. Sitting on the edge of the chair suggests their cooperation. And some are just too cartoonishly stereotypical to believe. “Stroking chin” means evaluation. Well, yeah -- in Bug Bunny shorts, it does.

As with all things Apple, it sounds here like a good basic idea (make the customer happy and understand where she is coming from) is taken to Jobs-ian excess and control freakery.

On the other hand -- whatever works. According to TechCrunch, an NPD study has found that 31% of consumers had a better perception of Apple after visiting a Genius Bar. And around 90% of those who took things to be fixed at the Genius Bar rated the experience very or extremely satisfying.  

Or there is some subliminal crap going on from those backlit atom icons in the background.  

5 comments about "The Five Dirty Words Apple Geniuses Can Never Say At The Bar ".
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  1. Jeffery Beliveau from PFC, August 29, 2012 at 1:54 p.m.

    I don't frequent car dealers who sell "pre-owned vehicles", but I will go to a lot that has "used cars". If you can't be honest with me then you don't deserve my business.

  2. Zachary Cochran from CPXi, August 29, 2012 at 2:03 p.m.

    I'm going to defend Apple on this one. When I went through 20 hours of training before I became a Specialist (back in 2007 when I worked there), my teammates and I role played and returned with responses that kept the mood positive. For example, when a customer came in with what they thought was a broken computer, instead of saying "Unfortunately" I would start my statement with: "As it happens" or "it seems to me...but allow me to check." Apple isn't trying to be deceptive or evil or totalitarian, what they're really doing is teaching their young employees how to carry out a thoughtful verbal interaction that doesn't accentuate the fears of its customers (i.e. *panicking* "I didn't have a backup and I think I lost all the photos from my child's first two years of life!" Apple's training taught me a good life lesson in thoughtful communication--not how to "spin" the message or deceive customers (the truth always wins out anyway).

  3. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost, August 29, 2012 at 4:51 p.m.

    I think most sales forces are trained in how to sell and the kinds of things to say. I also think you should consider the likelihood that different people have different skill sets. Ones who know a lot about computers are not often naturally gifted with socially. I'm just saying. You gotta teach the other part too. It makes sense. And furthermore, it really works.

  4. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., August 29, 2012 at 6:02 p.m.

    Not much new here, in my view. A friend managed a McDonald's four decades ago. He told me you must never say, "rag," "grease" or "wipe." You had to frame your direction as, "Please get a 'cloth' and 'clean' up that 'oil.'" Many salespeople are taught "Feel/Felt/Found": "I understand how you 'feel.' I 'felt' the same way myself until I 'found' that ... " And the other handy substitution: Never say "But." Instead, say "And" or "However." If this is the worst Apple does, it's pretty mild.

  5. Allan Bennetto from JMango, September 6, 2012 at 3:11 a.m.

    I am not sure if there is anything sinister in this... creating a positive mood in the 'complaints department' where the customer walks away satisfied I would have thought was good CRM. Tone of language used here is no different to the tone of the marketing and communication that sold you the item in the first place.

    Maybe it would be a non story if it wasn't the Evil Empire implementing the customer service initiatives.

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