The bright, friendly facade of the Apple store hides some weird stuff, according to current and former employees. Porn-stuffed laptops, positivity police, and an anti-gossip gestapo: Welcome to the real Apple Store.
After the Wall Street Journal published an account of Apple's retail culture that was as sterile and cheery as Apple Stores themselves, we asked insiders to send us more colorful details about hawking Steve Jobs' pricey chunks of metal. And Apple Store employees had some tales to tell. Here's a selection.
Apple employees are banned from saying "unfortunately" when delivering bad news to a customer, urged instead to replace it with the more positive "as it turns out." And management apparently takes the ban seriously: One former Apple employee tells us that his coworker was put under a 90-day probationary period because he said "unfortunately" too much at the Genius Bar.
As it turns out, "unfortunately" is just one of a number of "stop words" that are not supposed to pass an Apple Store employee's lips. One Apple Store employee, who was fired in 2009 after two years, writes:
There was a whole class we took about things not to say, and what to say instead. One of my favorites was to resist the urge to say "That's stupid" or "That wasn't smart" and replace it with "That's not recommended" - For example, you say "I took my iPod swimming and now it don't work" I say "Ah, that's not recommended" when I mean "That was really stupid".
Also, problems aren't "problems"—they're "issues."
The linguistic whitewashing extends to relations between management and employees. One former employee who worked at an Apple store in New York City last summer says:
Managers were instructed to use specific buzz words and phrases when speaking to us. For example, "I'll reach out to you" was a good one. I would often get "reached out to" to attend mandatory store meetings. Even better was the phrase "what questions do you have," instead of "do you have any questions." They use the former because it's supposed to sound more open and welcome to questions. I just thought it sounded scripted. They used it a lot in the training program- I called them out on it and got a lecture on how to communicate with others.
Given some of the crazy bullshit employees have to deal with from their customers, we'd imagine it must be hard to keep up the act. An Apple Store employee of two years who worked as a tech support specialist and quit within the last two months writes:
The amount of porn I saw in data transfers blew my mind. Once a guy got a detractor because a customer blamed US for the fact that, when our tools transferred the data of their old computer over and put photos in iPhoto, there were hoards of gay pornography brought over. She couldn't possibly believe that maybe it was her 70-year old husband's doing. Yeah, because we put porn on your shit for fun, ma'am. No, I saw people get fired just for LOOKING in the photo albums of customer's computers to verify that, yes, the pictures had transferred. Not even trying to actually get into someone's personal stuff, just doing our job and making sure nothing had failed to transfer (because customers got angry if anything was missing).
But even when faced with vomit-soaked iPhones and cockroach-infected iMacs (both of which one Genius says he dealt with), Apple Geniuses must please the customer above all, or face the dreaded "detractor". The same employee writes:
Apple tracks what's called "promoters" and "detractors" and "passives." That receipt we e-mail you when you buy something? You can give us feedback from that e-mail… the system e-mails customers who have had appointments with us, and asks them for their feedback. Basically they are asked a few questions, but the one that comes back to us is "overall satisfaction." Apple expects a 9 or 10 from each interaction. If you get a 7 or 8 that's bad, it's a passive. A detractor automatically means a talk with management. This is another thing that was used to deny promotions and raises, or fire people. The worst thing? It's totally arbitrary. I had customers who loved me and would thank me for my work (because I treated them with respect) and then would give me a 6 because someone else misinformed them about something on a different, previous visit.
Trash-talking problem customers in the break room is a cherished retail tradition. But if Apple Store employees complain to their coworkers, they might get ratted out. "Employees are given no outlet to vent about such a high stress job," writes a former employee who was just fired (for planking!):
If you speak ill of a customer interaction or of a coworker and any employee overhears you, depending on how much kool-aid they've had to drink, you'll likely be reported to your supervisor. I can't count the number of times my coworkers and I have been pulled into the manager's office to talk about why we're so negative and what we're going to do to correct that.
Almost every current or ex-employee who emailed us they were worried about blowback from a secrecy-obsessed Apple and wanted to remain anonymous. (Many mentioned still-active Non-Disclosure Agreements.) According to a number of employees, Apple employees a team to scour Apple-related message boards and websites for signs of any current or former employees gossiping. One referred, fearfully, to Apple's "team of lawyers and data miners"; another called them "forensic internetters." It's all very Church of Scientology.
Not everyone who emailed us had horror stories to share. Writes one current, happy Apple Store employee:
All these employees that complain just have shitty managers. I love my store and have absolutely no problems there. My wage is fare for being a technician in a retail store of a mall. My hours usually stink but again, I work retail.
I've been certified by apple for mobile and hardware repair, FOR FREE. Flown to Cupertino for free and given a $100/day food stipend. Who's going to complain about that? My managers are cool and never bother me.
Based on what we heard, the Apple Store seems like a great place to work if you are capable of stowing your ill will, cynicism, frustration and impatience—i.e. humanity—into a little box at the start of each work day and fawn over a stream of idiotic customers without complaint. No wonder people like shopping at the Apple Store so much.
[Photos via Getty]