Guest Post: The New Genius Bar 

Editor’s Note: This was sent to be by a reader of the site who shall remain unnamed, in response to the discussions this week of the shift at Apple’s Genius Bars. The writer’s thoughts closely track with mine at how the Genius Bar — and Apple Retail on the whole — has shifted.

It is re-printed here with permission.

Change

Even at training (Early 2009) our instructor warned us about ‘Old School vs. New School’ Geniuses. His emphasis was that the needs of the business change. He advised us to keep our eyes on the Credo, and not to get hung up on the way things used to be. Consumer electronics is a fast-paced world.

Customers generally wanted the same things: resolutions to their computer troubles, a better understanding of their equipment and its capabilities, and a calm, soothing friend who let them know it was ok they had forgotten their Hotmail password again. This often meant 20 minutes of one-on-one time with a Genius.

iOS products attract a very different customer. Their needs and willingness to learn are different. Most problems customers have are (they think) simple and don’t require an extended interaction. These customers don’t want to ‘hang out with a genius’ — they want their phone to work. NOW.

Tasks like replacing a display, swapping a phone, or updating software don’t require the same skills that isolating a failed video card or manually recreating a user in OS X do. As iPhones and iPads continue to fly out the door, the role of a Genius shifts.

I didn’t want to primarily support phones. Not because I don’t think it’s an awesome product, but because there was a lot of monotony and there were few portable job skills learned. I always saw the Genius role as a stepping stone into other IT jobs.

Increased Demand

Everyone hates being asked to do more work than they did yesterday. Apple’s growth is explosive.

This is where competent managers make all the difference. A savvy scheduler who stays on top of hiring and training the appropriate staff makes everyone’s job easier. I worked at two different stores, and though both were very busy, you could tell a big difference in the workload. I wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long if I hadn’t ended up at a “good” store. If there was one thing the retail stores aren’t consistent with and could use improvement on, here it is.

I worked with guys who could pop through 35–40 appointments in a day and almost all their customers were very happy. I worked with others who would waste 20 minutes of my time whining about how they didn’t have time to “connect” with their customers. These were the guys who caused the bar to consistently be behind and forced me to take 2–3 appointments at a time.

Apple is a family. When one family member is unhappy and vocal, it can be toxic. There were certain people I wished would have been asked to leave.

Emotional Drain

Most Geniuses are emotionally invested in their jobs. Their ability to assess and react to any situation with skill, tact, and empathy keeps customers ranking Apple support so high, year after year. I gave the role my all, but most days it meant I went home empty, too emotionally exhausted to socialize.

As you get better at the job, your ability to assess and react to unspoken tension improves. This is great on the job, but hell when I would go out in public. I couldn’t turn that part of my brain off. I wanted to fix every problem I perceived. I had panic attack. This inability to interact normally was a major reason why I had to leave.

I worked with a number of +5 year geniuses — some were getting toasty. All had an ability to keep emotional distance and keep pace with the changing demand and way of doing business. Those that stay on for another 5 years will have good times and bad, but will still love the job in whatever form its in. Being a Genius is a hard job, and for some it becomes more difficult as time goes on.

Oh, and it is often said that the average lifespan of a Genius at the company is a mere 18 months.

Conclusion

Working for Apple means you are always on the cutting edge. If you want to work with the best people, you need to be one of those people. Every 3 or 4 months you have to look hard at yourself and the current incarnation of the job and ask, Am I the best fit for this job? Am I willing to deal with the problem of the week and offer feasible solutions? Is my mental health in a state where I can enjoy this? Would I want to work with me with my current attitude?

If the answer is no, I hope a manager helps you through that tough time and out the door if need be.