August 30, 2012

Gizmodo Is At It Again

Gizmodo often pushes the boundaries of journalism ethics. The most notable example, of course, occurred in 2010 when they either stole or knowingly purchased a lost iPhone prototype in order to fondle it on camera and earn themselves possibly the largest tech story of the year. Motivated either by page clicks or simple vengeance, this website often places Apple in their questionable crosshairs, painting their stories with plenty of hyperbole and a voice that seems to always be shouting, “HEY! LOOK OVER HERE!”

Their newest mudslinging piece isn’t near as juicy as previous stories, but it’s still an overblown attempt to paint Apple as a somewhat nefarious company. This time, they’re accusing Apple of using internal documents to train their retail employees with their own brand of cultural language.


While obtaining a “Secret Employee Training Manual” might not be as shady as obtaining an iPhone prototype, they treat it as if it may have been, claiming to have read the pages with the same amount of  pride as a teenage boy who just found his older sister’s diary.

And just like the diary of a teenaged girl, this “Secret” employee training manual doesn’t offer any juicy details that you wouldn’t expect to find within its pages.

Gizmodo writer Sam Biddle begins his piece by accusing Apple of using the manual as a “Humanity 101 textbook for a robot university.

Later he goes on to chide the company for asking the incoming geniuses to take pride in their employer and their work, as he continuously defaults to a brand of “brainwashing” metaphor to explain a perfectly normal training regimen.

So, what sort of behaviors and skills are Apple teaching their geniuses?

Nothing you wouldn’t find in any other retail training manual or taught by any seasoned sales vet. Honestly, the pages of the manual posted on the Gizmodo site are yawn-worthy at best. When you consider Biddle cherry-picked pages he thought were most interesting, you almost feel sorry for the Geniuses who have to study this manual for the duration of their 14-day training.

Anyone who has ever worked retail knows the training material is always a bore: Which is to say, Apple retail might be just like every other retail chain. This claim could have made for a better premise than Biddle’s “Apple’s in our heads!” approach, but we’ll move on.

According to the pages cherry-picked by Biddle, Apple begins their Genius training by introducing the newbies to some Apple language typical of their culture, and explaining what their new jobs will entail and how they fit in with the company on the whole. Says Biddle, “The basic idea here, despite all the verbiage, is simple: Become strong while appearing compassionate; persuade while seeming passive, and empathize your way to a sale.”


After Apple introduces the rookies to the company, they explain how they want Geniuses to approach their customers in a way which will lead to positive experiences and hopefully a sale. We’ve seen the teaching tool acronym APPLE in other stories about the retail stores, wherein A stands for Approach, P is Probe, the second P is Present, the L stands for Listen, and the E stands for End.

So, essentially Apple has given the basic 5-step selling technique their own Apple spin. First you approach a customer, then you ask them what they need, you present them with a solution— always taking care to listen— then you close the sale.


Honestly, this sales method is much more personal and effective than the old school, 80’s style of ABC: Always Be Closing.

Next, Biddle discusses Apple’s method of training their staff to avoid certain words and phrases when talking to their customers, especially those customers who may be experiencing problems with their devices.

Essentially, Apple doesn’t want their customers to come into a store, worried that their machine is on the blink and have a Genius take a look at it, saying, “Yep, it’s crashed. This thing’s toast.”

Computer issues can be a real source of frustration and stress, especially if a customer isn’t necessarily “tech savvy.” Therefore, using a bit of empathy in these situations isn’t only good for business, it’s just common courtesy.

How dare Apple insist that their employees treat other humans with dignity and respect?

Simply mind blowing.

Biddle then moves on to point out how devious it is of Apple to train their new Geniuses to choose certain words over others. Then, he mocks Apple for encouraging open, positive feedback amongst other employees in the store.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be upset with Biddle. Maybe he’s never worked in any sort of retail environment. Personally, I’ve worked in my fair share of retail chains, ranging from clothing to coffee to tech. At each job, on each day one training session, I was met with a very similar manual and training regimen. I was introduced to the corporate language, told what things I should and shouldn’t say, and guided on how to positively engage with customers and close a sale. There were words and phrases I wasn’t allowed to use with customers on the sales floor and I was always encouraged to treat everyone with dignity and respect, even if they didn’t deserve it.

I will admit, however, that every company had an awkward way of approaching “feedback” with other employees, which is just a flowery way of saying, “I have a problem with you, let’s resolve it.”

No, I think Biddle’s prime motivation here was to create a spectacle piece in hopes to get as many page views as he can. He knew exactly what he was doing and did it well enough with the headline.

After all, it doesn’t matter what he writes, so long as he gets people to the page. As proof, he ends this entire piece with seeming praise for Apple, saying: “It works better than anything that’s ever come before it, and every Apple Store has the sales figures to back that up. Maybe it’s because the products sell themselves. Maybe it’s the zealot fan base. Or maybe the blue-clad agents really are inside our heads when we walk away from the Bar.”

In the comments, Biddle writes, “I don’t think most people ever need to have a breakdown of which human emotions are positive or negative.”

I agree with you, Sam. However, in retail, training is all about catering to the lowest common denominator, sadly. You’d think that a company would do their best to just not hire the people who need to be trained in this, but it doesn’t always work that way. Some of the screwiest people just so happen to be very good in interviews, ensuring that they’ll probably always have a job.

I think this piece could make one good point, however. Apple is a company, just like other companies. They happen to excel at almost everything they do, they happen to be the most valuable company in the world, but they’re still just a company like all the rest. Those who shout loudest on either side of the Love/Hate fence have created a pedestal for Apple to sit upon. Whenever Apple appears to be a normal company, the loud minority doesn’t know how to process it.

Overall, this story is proof that Gizmodo is not much more than an online grocery store tabloid. Each week or each month, depending on the publication, these magazines flaunt headlines about celebrity fights, stars without makeup, and personalities acting badly. Randy Travis driving drunk and walking through convenience stores in the buff isn’t news, it’s just sad.

In the beginning of this story, Biddle links to another Gizmodo piece about Apple employees behaving badly, destroying customers’ devices and stealing products. This isn’t news, it’s just sad. I wish it didn’t happen, and I wish people didn’t act this way, but meeting up with these hooligans on an IM chat or working your connections to get a hold of an internal Apple document isn’t productive, it’s just destructive and lazy.

Yet, just as Apple is like any other company, Gizmodo is like any other tabloid. By now, we shouldn’t expect anything more from them.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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