Working as an Apple Genius Is Good Training For Future - Like Parenting Toddlers

| Computing with Bifocals

This is my annual column on how to get the best service at Apple Genius Bars.

The young people who work as Geniuses at Apple stores across the nation get a lot of technical training before they ever hit the floor and many of them have a lot of Apple knowledge before they are even hired. They also get trained on customer care skills. Unfortunately, once they start working, they get more training from the customers. Some of it will hold them in good stead when they become parents of toddlers because they see a lot of adults exhibit toddler like behavior.

If you have ever visited an Apple Store you know that frequently they are quite full. That is certainly true of the two Apple stores located in Austin, Texas, where I live. It is not uncommon for there to be 40 or more customers in the store at one time. That was the case during my last visit, but service is so well organized that everyone gets served very quickly.

Apple Store Genius Bar Logo

A Story...

I arrived at the store ahead of that my scheduled genius bar appointment, therefore I had time to observe other customers. People should always be aware that when they are in public other people can hear and see what they say and do. This is what I observed during that visit.

There was a man in the store who was trying to get a free replacement for his iPhone. His story is burned into my brain because I heard it at least seven times. The warranty on his phone expired In late fall 2012. According to him, he had not had time until now, early January, to come in and try to deal with the problem with his phone. He had "been too busy".

He wanted his phone replaced. He also said he had purchased an extended warranty for the phone. The Genius who was trying to assist him had complete access to the Apple records and contrary to the statements by the customer, there was no extended warranty in place for this particular phone. During the 15 minutes or so that I was the unfortunate witness to this encounter, the customer, who was somewhere in his 40’s referred to the technician consistently as “dude” and “man” although the technician’s name was clearly visible on his Apple ID.

The Genius could not finish a sentence without the customer interrupting to repeat his tale of “only wanting a replacement phone”. At one point the customer’s wife showed up and the customer once again interrupted the Genius to explain to his wife, in great detail, what was going on. At this point this 40 something-year-old woman replied nuh-uh - there is too a warranty. I looked up to see if she was going to stomp her foot while she was at it. Now, the last time I heard the phrase nuh-un from anyone, it was from my five-year-old great-grandson denying he had taken a cookie he wasn’t supposed to have.

The conversations went downhill from there. The customers insisting that the Apple records were incorrect and the whole thing would be solved if Apple would just replace the phone, and the Genius trying to demonstrate how the system worked. I don't know how it ended because my Genius came to help me solve my problem. Not once during this event did the Genius exhibit exasperation, lose his temper, tell the customer to produce a copy of the extended warranty (like I was ready to respond to them after 20 seconds.) He was consistently professional and he consistently tried to adhere to Apple policy while trying to accommodate if not the wishes of these customers, to make sure they understood the situation.

 About annually I guess I feel the need to discuss the best way to get services at the Genius Bar both for your own satisfaction and for the sake of efficiency.

Being a Good Customer

I, of course, am the perfect Genius Bar customer. If you don't believe it just ask me. I would like to be able to say I learned what to do and not do from watching others, but of course that is not true. I learned how to be a passably good Genius Bar customer by making my own mistakes.

This is what you need to do to get good service from Genius Bar.

  1. Make an appointment and have a legitimate reason for being there. Dropping your phone in the toilet is not a good excuse for getting a replacement phone at no charge and telling the Genius Bar that somebody else dropped it in the swimming pool doesn’t work. It is still your phone and if you do the damage and don’t have special coverage you have to pay for your own actions and buy a new one.
  2. Explain the problem to the Genius in no more than three sentences. Your three sentences should be short enough to fit on a standard post-it note.
  3. Stop talking. The Genius has a lot of information at his or her fingertips and will ask you questions if necessary. They're going to look up your device and its records, they're going to do a diagnostic, and they will physically check it out. Don’t spend time telling them what you already tried. Be honest, you probably just want to impress them so they won’t think you are a doofus. They won’t care. Heck, their tests are so sophisticated they can even tell when you last backed up or restored your system to factory settings. Both of you will end up happy if you let them take the lead, and you will be on your way much faster.
  4. Don’t chatter to them while they are working. The truth is they probably don’t really care about your cute puppy, grandchild, or cool new tech purchase. If you feel compelled to talk, talk to the person sitting next to you. That way neither of you will bother your own Genius. They are all so friendly and helpful it is hard not to share, but remember your goal -- get it fixed and get out of there.

On a completely different note, I’m heading out for Macworld in about two weeks. I can hardly wait to get there. I hope many readers will be able to be there as well It's an experience unlike anything else you will ever have. Even if you only get to go once in your life it's worth it.

If you're going be there I would love to meet some of you. I love your ideas about the about things that you would like to read about and what kind of products you're interested in.

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Scott B in DC

I am sure you are the perfect Genius Bar customer, but as a writer, I wish you would NOT use a double negative! In the second paragraph, you open your third sentence with, “It is not uncommon….” If it is not uncommon then it is common since the double negatives of “not” and the prefix “un-” cancel each other out!

You could write “It is common…” or “It is usual…” without using a language construct that is like fingernails on a chalkboard for some of us.

I am sure I will be flamed for being the “grammar police.” But when your profession is writing, you should not make the mistakes teachers have been trying to prevent us from doing since the third grade. As a respectful tribute to your third grade teacher and every English teacher since, embrace the concept of proper grammar and not flame me for pointing out the error.

Nancy Gravley

Hi Scott. Note taken. My wonderful high school English teacher would have marked me down a letter grade for that one.


Guest Scott:
“It’s not uncommon” implies that it would be normal to think that it is uncommon. As a writer, you could employ this technique to be more effective.



Happy New Year to you, and thank you! I truly enjoyed reading this, and have witnessed incarnations of this couple at Apple Stores across three continents. They get around, but are equally annoying in every venue.


No flame, just an alternative point of view. It is not uncommon to hear and read the phrase ‘not uncommon’ in British English, perhaps more so than in American, and it is grammatically acceptable (at least it was when I was in secondary school). I have always understood it to be more nuanced than your suggestion of synonymous with ‘common’, which it is not; rather that while a thing may not be common, it is not rare. Such nuance adds both structure and complexity to thought - a good thing especially for young minds.

Thank you!

You are Great!


As a long-time customer service representative in a wide range of retail and tech support fields, I can tell you that Customers Are Stupid™. This is known as Carver’s First Law of Retail.

I was employed by a small Macintosh store during the rise of the MP3. My coworker had a customer try to return their computer because it didn’t run WinAMP. She was stunned when he said that she could run MacAMP instead.

While working in a very large bookstore in Seattle, I actually had a customer ask me, with no guile on his part, “Where do you keep the books?” I was at the information counter, and he had to pass several hundred books to get to me, with a couple hundred more on display at the desk.

I had a job at a kiosk at one end of a single level mall. People would come into the mall, and immediately ask us where such and such a store was located. Remember, this was a single-level mall, predominantly arranged along a very long walkway. They could not figure out on their own that if the store were not at that entrance, then it MUST be further into the mall.

Many more customers have shown an inability to listen to what they are told by the salesman/CSR. When told that the product they want is on Aisle 5, which is clearly marked, they will then ask where that is, failing to notice the 500 point 5 hanging above both ends of the aisle.

I once heard about a guy who called tech support because his computer wouldn’t turn on. When the tech support agent asked him to look behind the computer to see if the plug had fallen out, he said he couldn’t tell, because his lights were out due to a power failure.

While I am aware that problems can occur with tech products, there is no excuse for being a stupid customer. Yes, you may not know how to fix a complex problem, but you MUST have a basic level of common sense.




You should consider a vignette on 100 tips on how not to be a stupid customer. It would sell, and more importantly, teach.


I’m an Ubuntu man so maybe I’m just an arrogant prick.. but it sounds like the typical apple customer is no genius… Actually, I get the impression that apple often tells it’s customer base that they are stupid and helpless.. Which I guess they are if they buy into apple’s “thriving ecosystem”.
Maybe BS appointments to see the glorified geek squad would be reduced if apple empowered the consumer to handle their own business without clogging the “genius” bars floor space..
And on that note, remotely disabling java?!  How do you guys just go along with that?
If you’ll excuse me I’m going to go get things done..

Don Parsons Jr.

Great article Nancy! When I am providing user support, it would be tempting to hand a copy of your article to them, and point out that this is not limited to Apple Genius engagements. I can’t tell you how often a person asking me for help launches into a VERY lengthy explanation of irrelevant information that only delays my work. I could help them so much faster if they would just state the base problem (“I can’t get Internet access.”, “It won’t print from application X.”, “I can’t get access to the network shares.”, etc.), and let me begin systematic troubleshooting.

The only thing I would add is when the support person appears to be do something you believe you already tried, refrain from making statements such as “No, it’s not that! I tried that!”. Know that there is probably some seemingly small detail that the technical support person is employing that is a significant deal changer.

Thank you Nancy, keep up the good work.


Yes. The pandemonium that existed before the appointment system was much more preferable.

Thank you for the article.

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