Grunt Eyes

New arrivals to any combat zones quickly learned that the difference between a veteran and a novice was far more than war stories. They had an expression for it on the front line in Viet Nam: “grunt eyes.” Grunts were the enlisted ranks of the infantry–low rank, little prestige, people whose job description started and ended with the simple requirement to, “Do what the ‘old man’ tells you to do.”

Those with “grunt eyes” were able to see things a new in-country recruit would completely miss. And there was little correlation with rank. Whether you were a captain or a private, you only acquired “grunt eyes” in the field, paying attention to every sight, sound, smell, impulse, clue, and condition that often could make the difference between life and death. It was something learned, not something taught.

The people in any organization with “grunt eyes” are seasoned front-line employees who can tell how Ms. Jones likes her coffee, why Acme Pyrotechnics needs precision on a delivery or what makes Mr. Smith return his shipment.  They know the details of service.  And, according to our survey research, about 22 percent of the difference between satisfied and dissatisfied customers can be accounted for by an organization’s ability to recognize and manage the details that really matter for customers.

People with grunt eyes take time to pick up trash, polish counters, straighten displays, spruce up plants, and worry over the 101 details that together combine to make their customers’ experiences with them memorable for all the right reasons. Who in your organization has “grunt eyes?”  What could they each you about what matters to customers?  How can you turn employees with “Grunt eyes” into mentors to those who currently lack the perspective and talent?

Tali Yahalom makes some great points about customer complaint handling in her article at

About Chip&John

Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of several best-selling books. Their newest book is "Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to do About it."
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