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Friday, May 07, 2004, 04:00 pm PT (07:00 pm ET)

Apple tells employees to 'speak positively' about resellers

Amidst increasing Apple reseller frustration and several pending lawsuits related to the subject, Apple has begun requiring that its employees follow a set of guidelines when speaking about resellers, service providers, and third-party products.

The guidelines, which were created in early 2003 after three lawsuits were filed against the company for business wrongs, have seen repeated updates over the past year, sources said.

Apple requires that all AppleCare, Telesales, and retail store personnel follow the guidelines when speaking about resellers, service providers, third-party products, third-party manufacturers, Apple products, or Apple itself. The company further notes that failure to comply with the guidelines may result in disciplinary actions, up to and including termination.

In a document outlining the guidelines, Apple lists the "Do's and Don'ts regarding speaking about resellers and service providers." The company states that Apple resellers and service providers are "key members of the Apple family" because they promote and sell Apple products, and provide service and support to Apple customers.

The Do's

"Neutrally position the various channels through which customers can buy Apple products," Apple advocates. "They include retail stores, resellers, online Apple Stores, catalog resellers, web-based resellers, Apple telephone representatives, education channels, and government purchase programs."

In addition, the company asks employees to neutrally position the options for obtaining service for Apple products. These options include contacting Apple service providers and Apple retail stores, as well as calling Apple contact centers for assistance.

The Don'ts

"Do not make disparaging remarks about Apple resellers, and do not tell customers that buying directly from Apple is better than buying from a reseller," Apple warns. Likewise, the company states that employees should not imply that having Apple products repaired by Apple is preferable to having products repaired at an Apple service provider.

Third parties

In a separate portion of the document, Apple states that employees should not tell customers that the company discourages the use of third-party RAM or other third-party hardware.

"The manufacturers of Mac-compatible products are important members of the Apple family," Apple says. "When talking to customers about third-party products and the resellers who install third-party products in Apple computers, take care to present them in a positive light."

Speak positively about Apple

Earlier this year, Apple added a clause to the guidelines to remind employees that they must take care to speak positively about Apple and Apple products in public, particularly when in a retail environment in which Apple products are sold.

"Being in earshot of people who are considering purchasing Apple products is NOT the time to make negative comments regarding manufacturing quality, known product issues, internal procedures, or other topics that could negatively influence a potential customer," the company says.

Lawsuit influence

Last year, three law suits were filed by Apple dealers, including Los Angeles-based Computer International, San Francisco-based Macadam Computer, and Oregon-based MacTech Systems.

The resellers charge Apple with breach of contract and fraud, saying the computer maker damaged their business by withholding pay for repairs they made under warranty, by overcharging them for parts, charging resellers higher fees for Apple hardware then it does its own retail stores, and by expressing a low opinion of resellers in an effort to gain more direct sales business.

Last month, the same three resellers launched a Web site to document and share information concerning unethical or illegal business dealings by the computer maker.

Apple last updated its set of positive speech guidelines on April 30th, 2004.