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Inside the Genius Bar: Apple Employees Speak

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Yahoo Tech
People in an Apple Store

(Reuters)

Apple’s retail stores are among the most successful in the country. And a large part of that success has to do with the company’s vaunted Genius Bars and their blue-shirted Geniuses. These are the people who do everything from restoring your crashed MacBook Pro to repairing your busted iPhone.

But beneath their blue shirts and name badges, they’re just regular guys. We recently sat down with two Apple Geniuses, Greg and Tim — both used pseudonyms — to pick their brains and see what it’s like being the public’s tech support specialists.

Before we get started, it’s important to note that these are just two Geniuses among many, and they don’t represent the thoughts of every Genius out there. Now, on to the good stuff.

“I just needed a job out of college.”

Greg: Initially, I just needed a job out of college; Apple has great health benefits and really solid pay for a young person who needs a job to land on their feet after finishing college. I’ve only ever worked at the Genius Bar. I don’t think I would have stayed at all if I were selling [products]. Sales aren’t really much of a motivator, you know? I think most techs at Apple retail feel that way, too.

“Training is … lots of asking permission, being empathetic, and trying to align with people.”

Tim: When you are a Genius, you are sent out to Apple corporate for three weeks of training. The first week is basic troubleshooting. The second week is all customer interactions, how you should talk to them and listen to them. I think that’s the most important part. The third week is when you fix devices.

Greg: Training is much more focused on how to position information and ask questions. There’s lots of asking permission, being empathetic, and trying to align with people. So, you’re not just saying, “This is broken. It costs this much to repair.”

“The Family Room Specialist role was the worst thing to happen to Apple.”

Tim: The Family Room Specialist role [mobile device and creative specialists] was the worst thing to happen to Apple. They are trained in house, usually by reading pamphlets on iPads or the like, and then are thrown right on the floor. As a result, the Family Room Specialists were either really good at the technical side but couldn’t talk to customers, or they could talk to customers and don’t know the technical side. So Family Room Specialists might replace a perfectly good phone because they didn’t know how to change a setting on it. The Family Room Specialists are giving Geniuses a bad name.

Apple Geniuses in a store selling the iPhone 6

“We had one crazy customer every single day.”

Greg: I worked with someone who threw his iPhone across the room and smashed it after we told him he’d have to pay for a replacement. It was already broken. Another woman threw her iPod on the ground after we asked if she’d made an appointment to come in to see us. It bounced off the ground and hit a technician in the face.

Tim: We had one crazy customer every single day. We had a guy come in and his iPhone wasn’t working, and he had a computer in his hand. If the phone part of the iPhone doesn’t work, we consider that a priority, because that’s a major issue. So he’s just screaming at the check-in person that his phone isn’t working and he freaked out and threw his computer on the floor because he was so mad.

There was another customer that had a software issue with his iPhone, and we couldn’t help him. So he tried to slam his phone on the counter to cause physical damage and break it so we would replace it. Another person tried to throw their liquid-damaged iPod at one of the big glass windows, and it hit an employee in the head.

“We don’t take gifts.”

Greg: She came back and tried to give me a cake she’d baked. I had to turn that down, since we don’t take gifts. But it was really sweet. I get lots of offers from people to buy me coffee, things like that. We just politely say no. But even the gesture is really nice. I imagine it’s because a lot of these devices are so personal for most people. So they appreciate that their favorite things have been fixed.

Apple Geniuses in training

(Associated Press)

“Your job is to make sure the customer leaves knowing they can have complete trust in Apple.”

Greg: I find that one of the reasons people tend to like the Genius Bar is that we’re honest. If you don’t need a new OS upgrade, I’ll tell you. One of the biggest tensions and oddities of the Genius Bar is that it’s technical service and repair, but it’s sitting inside a big retail store. We might tell you it’s more cost effective to buy a new phone on contract rather than pay for a damage replacement swap, but only if it makes sense for you and how much you might save.

Tim: Your job isn’t meant to make money. Your job is to make sure the customer leaves knowing they can have complete trust in Apple.

"Reset All Settings” 

Tim: Reset All Settings on the iPhone does a lot. A lot of people confuse it with Erase All Content and Settings, but Reset All Settings just erases all the settings that apps have changed. That does a lot for the iPhone, especially battery issues.

“[Background apps] have almost zero impact on your battery.”

Greg: The biggest misconception about iOS is that apps people see when they double-tap the home button are taxing your battery life. In fact they have almost zero impact on your battery; they are frozen in place until you jump back to them. You can also turn those apps’ access to background refresh off in your settings. We probably explain this to people hundreds of times a day at the Genius Bar.

Customers in an Apple Store

(Associated Press)

“You get a pretty valuable transferable skill set.”

Greg: I would [recommend this job to others]. You get a pretty valuable transferable skill set, and other companies seem to really value the social skills that you bring to the table in the IT and startup world. It also pays well compared to most entry-level jobs after college, and the benefits are better than most companies.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+ here.