Apple stores are world-renowned beacons of retail success. Their architectural design and aesthetic feel set Apple apart from 99% of the retail market. When you walk into an Apple store, the atmosphere is bright, airy, clean, and filled with happy geeks that are willing to assist you.

But what’s life like behind the white and metallic walls that house Apple’s retail employees? The Wall Street Journal has combed through leaked Apple training manuals and interviewed former Apple employees. Here are some of the findings…

“A look at confidential training manuals, a recording of a store meeting and interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees reveal some of Apple’s store secrets. They include: intensive control of how employees interact with customers, scripted training for on-site tech support and consideration of every store detail down to the pre-loaded photos and music on demo devices.”

One of the most interesting tidbits from the WSJ’s report is that Apple employees aren’t allowed to say the word “unfortunately.”

“Former Geniuses say they were told to say “as it turns out” rather than “unfortunately” to sound less negative when they are unable to solve a tech problem.”

As Gawker points out, that sounds like a great approach for the guy who’s iPhone exploded next to his ear. “As it turns out, you have a shard of glass embedded in your ear drum.”

Employees aren’t allowed to correct customer mispronunciation of any Apple product. Apple feels that doing so makes the customer feel “patronized.” So next time you visit your local Apple store, make sure you say things like “iTouch” and “MacBook Hair” as often as possible.

The APPLE acronym is drilled into trainees from the very beginning.

An emphasis on customer satisfaction, not sales numbers, that is spelled out with the acronym APPLE.

  • Approach customers with a personalized warm welcome
  • Probe politely to understand all the customer’s needs
  • Present a solution for the customer to take home today
  • Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns
  • End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.

I think that this is the only time I’ve ever seen the words “probe” and “politely” next to each other, but I suppose the saying holds true: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Apple store employees don’t make commission, and there’s a huge pay divide between what “Geniuses” and the rest of the positions earn.

“Retail pay starts at US$9-$15 per hour for sales staff and up to $30 per hour for Genius employees. A move from retail to corporate is rare and many employees leave when they realize they can’t advance up the ladder.”

Service packages (like the discontinued MobileMe) are the name of the game. To be a successful salesperson, Apple expects you to fulfill a certain quota for service products. Most recently, employees have been instructed to push One to One with accompanying Apple purchases. Apple Care has always been a stressed sale for store salespeople.

“If they don’t sell enough care plans, they will be re-trained or moved to another position within the store.”

On multiple occasions I’ve received excellent customer service in my local Apple store. The employees trust the customers, and you aren’t assumed to be a criminal that’s trying to cheat out of a refund policy or payed hardware replacement. The “positive” approach definitely pays off.

Apple runs a tight ship, and their stores continue to be among the most trafficked in the world. Cupertino is obviously doing something right.

[TUAW]