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.
Last month, we invited Apple employees to send their pet peeves and horror stories from the front lines of Apple Stores. They did not disappoint.
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.
The customer from hell
I work as an FRS [Family Room Specialist] at an Apple Store, so I see more than my fair share of both good and bad when it comes to working with people, but at the end of the day my goal is to take the very best customer.
Even when they treat you badly.
I had a woman brought over to me and I could already tell she was upset and didn’t want to be here. I asked her what was wrong with her phone and she took it out of her purse and dropped it on the table. She looks me right in the eyes and says “Your fucking phone won’t turn on anymore.”
OK, so it’s going to be one of those situations.
I ask her when was the last time her phone was working but before I could finish she stops me and states “I don’t honestly want to answer any questions, I just want you to either fix my phone or get me a new one. Now, like, right now. Otherwise I’m going to leave this shitty fucking phone here and get a Samsung. Your service here is horrendous and I had to wait twenty minutes just to be seen. FIX. THIS. PROBLEM.”
Well, I’m no stranger to confrontations and she probably has had a bad day without having a working phone, one of the atrocities that you can suffer if you live in the first world.
So I look up her serial number and notice that although her phone is outside its regular one year warranty it qualified for two quality programs that we offer for certain iPhone 5 models. I want to help her despite her being super frustrating to work with. I go to one of my managers and explain the situation and ask if I could just replace her whole unit for another for no cost since it qualified for two quality programs. He has no problem with this, only pointing out that we didn’t have a replacement unit in stock but a store, about thirty minutes from my store has several.
I get excited and go back to her to explain that although her phone was outside its limited warranty I was going to replace it for her for free since it qualified for two programs. She doesn’t seem phased at first, and when I explain that although we don’t have the phone in stock I had several phones at another store about thirty minutes from here.
“You’re telling me to drive to a different location so I can pick up my phone? No, no. Fix this RIGHT NOW. I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO, IF YOU HAVE TO DRIVE THERE TO GET IT FOR ME OR HAVE IT BROUGHT TO ME, I WANT YOU TO FIX MY FUCKING PHONE.”
By now my manager, the one who just okayed replacing the phone for free wants to know what’s going on. She starts the exact same thing angry tirade at him. My manager tries to explain that we want to help her out, that she won’t need another appointment when she goes to the other store, that it’s going to be given to her at no cost, but she isn’t having it.
She says “Frankly, you guys trying to go above and beyond in terms of helping me makes me sick, I ask you to fix my phone and you want me to drive to another store to get it replaced. No, I don’t want a iPhone 5, if you’re going to give me a new phone I want a Six Plus. You guys screwed up by not having it in stock and I want you to take care of it.”
My manager is in shock but plays it cool saying “Well, you can get a iPhone Six Plus, but it’s not going to be at ‘no cost,’ that’s just something I can’t do.”
She holds her hand up at him “Stop, never say ‘can’t’ to a customer. I thought this was Apple, not some fly by night operation.”
My manager looks agitated and I feel like I need to chime in. “Ma’am, with all due respect, if I could drive there and get your phone and bring it back to you I would, but there wouldn’t be enough time to do that. If you were to head out now you’d make it there in plenty of time to go and get your new phone. We want to help you, that’s all we want to do.”
She looks at me and then at my manager. “Why can’t he drive and get it for me? I’m not leaving until I get a phone.”
This went back and forth until my manager came up with a great way to help her and get her the phone she so desperately needed. Our quality program allows for the customer to get a loaner phone while the original was being fixed offsite.
My manager ran to the back, got the loaner, explained what we wanted to do was give her the loaner and then we would order her a new phone. For whatever reason this worked in her mind.
I have never been one to want someone to go away but she was so difficult to work with. Please, please understand we are there to help you. Acting this way doesn’t help you or us in getting your issue resolved.
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.
Happy New Year
Five minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve, a few blocks from Times Square, a homeless man with a dazed look in his eyes wandered into our Apple Store. The Geniuses on overnight duty eyed him warily as he zigzagged his way to the person checking-in customers. When a genius called out the next appointment’s name, that man stumbled toward the bar. Waves of odor washed over so hard that neighbouring Geniuses had to hold their breath. You could smell a decade of the city on the man. He pulled out a brand new iPod touch and set it on the bar. We relaxed a bit. It all seemed legit. Then, he pulled out a jar of his own urine and set that on the bar beside the iPod.
The Pickup Artist
I gave a One-to-One lesson to a young man I’ll call Jonah. He dressed like a prep. I don’t think he looked old enough to be in college. So, while his laptop is booting up, he asks me how my love life is. I say none of his business and flash my wedding ring. He tells me he’s a pickup artist. He wants to build a website to advertise his pickup artist lessons. He didn’t have any clients yet.
Jonah looks around at my co-workers. Most are geeks. He tells me he could teach any one of them to pick up any “fox” they wanted. Jonah never calls women anything but “foxes.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him the guy he was pointing to? Gay.
Jonah wants to put a photograph on his website’s front page. I think, good idea. Like one of those testimonials, “This is me. If I can get the foxes, so can you!” Instead, what he’s got is a cheesy screenshot of a woman he tells me is a Playboy Playmate he took out on a date.
Once Jonah slept with her, which he said he “hoped to accomplish soon,” he would be in a position to advise others how to do the same. I thought, this guy needs more help than I know how to give in a one-to-one.
The next week Jonah got my co-worker, Fred. I made sure to situate my own appointment nearby because I wanted to hear how things went. A minute later, Fred busts out laughing, and we all turn to look. Fred waves that it’s all right and regains his composure.
“Listen, kid.” Fred says. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve forgotten more about dating than you will ever know!”
There was a whole class we took about things not to say, and what to say instead. One of my favourites 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”.
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.
A customer came up to me and put a MacBook, an iPod, and aUSB cable on the table.
“I need your help,” he said.
“Sure,” I said. “How can I help you?”
“I was copying a song from my computer to my iPod,” he said.
“But it never got there.”
“Do you want to try it again?”
“We can’t, because the song’s not on the computer anymore.”
“It’s not on my iPod, either.”
He hands me the USB cable and says, “It must be stuck in here. Can you get it out for me?’
Customer feedback headaches
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.
What has been seen…
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).
Additional reporting by J.K. Appleseed.
This story originally appeared on Gizmodo.