How Apple Geniuses get inside our heads

Step into an Apple Store with a computer question, and you'll notice that the Geniuses have a peculiar way of empathizing with your situation before selling you new products. A leaked Apple training manual, uncovered by Gizmodo on Tuesday, shows the company's idiosyncratic approach to sales.

Mark Blinch/Reuters/File
An Apple training manual uncovered by Gizmodo tells the company's Geniuses how to empathize with customers -- but it also includes lists of forbidden words and other psychological tricks. Here, shoppers walk by an Apple Store in Toronto, Canada.

Veteran Apple-watchers have often heard the phrase “Reality Distortion Field” applied to the company and its products. It’s a tongue-in-cheek way of referring to the apparently magical sway that iPads and Macs hold over customers, and it’s never more apparent than when you walk into a gleaming Apple store. If you’ve ever wondered how those blue-shirted Geniuses are so good at empathizing with you, then convincing you that you need a 17-inch Macbook Pro, you might be interested to learn that the Reality Distortion Field comes in book form.

On Tuesday Gizmodo revealed that it has a leaked copy of the Genius Student Training Workbook, Apple’s secret 14-day boot camp that mixes technical skills with self-help-style psychological tips designed to allow one to cheer up customers and solve Genius Bar confrontations.

It apparently leans pretty heavily toward the latter -- Gizmodo writer Sam Biddle says “almost the entire volume” is dedicated to the psychology of sales. The manual, and the accompanying course, is designed to get trainees to embody the “Genius Actions and Characteristics,” which include graceful education and persuasive recommendation. A happy customer is one who will buy more products, after all.

The most interesting part of the manual is the list of words that Apple employees shouldn’t say. Your computer didn’t “bomb,” “crash,” or “hang,” for example -- it “unexpectedly quit” or “stopped responding.” And Geniuses aren’t in the business of fixing “bugs” -- they’re responding to “conditions” or even to “situations.” The manual also adds that an Apple product is never hot -- at most, it’s “warm.” (Remember back in 2006, when Apple recalled all those batteries after two users got burned by their laptops? Those must have been pretty "warm.")

The Genius Workbook also gives black-belt level instructions in setting mistaken customers straight, without actually telling them they’re mistaken. It all revolves around the phrase “turns out,” which makes it seem as though the customer and the Genius are stumbling upon the truth together. For example, if a customer mistakenly says, “This OS isn't supported,” the manual recommends that the Genius respond with, “You'd think not, wouldn't you. Turns out it is supported in this version.”

If the volume has a dark side, it’s the prohibition on sympathy. Geniuses aren’t allowed to apologize directly to customers, even when Apple technology is at fault. At best, Gizmodo tells us, they can use phrases like “I’m sorry you’re feeling upset” or “sorry about your soda-spill accident” -- which seems like it would be cold comfort to someone who just lost a bunch of data to a hard drive crash (or, to put it in Genius terms, whose hard drive has “stopped responding”). But as VentureBeat points out, Apple retail stores made $4.1 billion last quarter -- and people wouldn’t keep shopping there if they didn’t feel respected by the staff.

Readers, what do you think about the manual? Does it strike you as an effective way to build rapport with customers? Does it creep you out? Let us know in the comments section below.

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