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Apple’s Genius Training – Phony 101 or Great Customer Service?

Raz Godelnik
| Tuesday September 11th, 2012 | 2 Comments

In the age of Wikileaks it’s difficult to keep documents secret, especially when it comes to documents the public is highly interested in. The list of secretive documents got shorter two weeks ago when Gizmodo reported on a leaked copy of Apple’s Genius Training Workbook.

This manual is described by Gizomodo’s Sam Biddle as “an exhaustive manual to understanding customers and making them happy,” and provides some interesting insights into the way Apple works to keep the cash flowing from its customers. It also provides some arguments in favor of great customer service against those who believe it’s just a waste of time.

Gizmodo has a bit of a harsh opinion about this manual, characterizing it is a sophisticated guide to getting customers feel happy all the way to the register. I see it mainly as a guide for providing good customer service, which benefits both the customer and the company. Actually, it’s not surprising at all to find such a guide at Apple – if you look at Apple’s history with its stakeholders, you will see that there’s mainly one group it mostly cares about – its customers.

This guide was prepared by Apple for the people behind the Genius Bar at its stores, which the company promises “have extensive knowledge of our products, and they work with you face-to-face to provide technical support and troubleshoot any problems.”Well, apparently with Geniuses, just like with CSR executives (maybe it’s time to call them geniuses as well..) technical knowledge is important, but interpersonal skills are a must. The manual’s goal is to make sure that every new generation of  the blue-shirt employees behind the Genius Bar will have all the necessary interpersonal skills to get anyone entering the store and interacting with them feel that Apple is their BFF.”

For example, Geniuses, as Gizmodo explains, are taught to employ the “Three Fs: Feel, Felt, and Found. This works especially well when the customer is mistaken or has bad information.” The guide provides an FFF 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.

In addition to such maneuvers, the manual provides great techniques to help Geniuses “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” as well as to make sure that Apple won’t get into trouble because something they say – instead of “bug” and “problem” Geniuses are asked to use terms like “condition,” “issue” or “situation.”

Now, if you ever worked in a customer service position for any company this guide probably sounds familiar to you. I even remember something similar I received ages ago in my glory days as a Blockbuster employee. Therefore, I’m not really sure why Gizmodo was so shocked by the manual – after all, nowadays every little design detail of almost every retail space you enter, from a large supermarket to a small muffin store, is aimed to make you more comfortable and happy, in order to increase sales.

Maybe it was the idea that Apple is just a great company with nice people working for it. But then, we already know that when it comes to some issues, Apple is not so great, and  you don’t really become the largest company in the world by being nice just for the sake of being nice. Apple is cool, but it is a much disciplined cool that is focused on the bottom line.

Still, I don’t think that it’s a bad thing in this case. After all, it’s much nicer to get into a store where you treated nicely with empathy, get polite answers to your questions and actual help with your problems. Oops, sorry, I meant your situations. It’s no wonder the Geniuses actually helps to generate sales – TechCrunch reported on the same day Gizmodo reveals the workbook that according to a study by NPD Group, “nine of every ten Apple owners are somewhat or much more likely to make another Apple purchase following their tech support experience.” Another finding of this study was that 31 percent of those polled said they have a better perception of Apple after getting technical help at the Genius Bar.

With 50,000 daily visitors at the Genius bars at its 375 outlets, Apple probably knows very well that this concept is a huge success. And the next step on its end is to try and enable customers to meet the Geniuses without the need to physically be at the store, i.e. meet them online. The Next Web reported that Apple is opening up elements of its Genius Bar to its online store in the UK, with an ‘Ask Now’ feature, “which lets you initiate a live online chat, or you can simply get them to call you back or give you a live guided tour.”

It will be interesting to see if Apple will succeed to translate the smooth empathy of the real geniuses to the virtual medium. Yet, if anyone can do it successfully, it’s probably Apple.

[Image credit: Alan in Belfast, Flickr Creative Commons]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and the New School, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development.


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