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The idea that customer is always right has been around for more than 100 years.

It was coined by Gordon Selfridge who worked for Marshal Field’s department store between 1879 and 1901.

A customer slogan that became a mantra for customer service.

It’s time to throw that mantra into a big pile of outdated rules.

The majority of companies still believe that if you don’t please every customer, you can’t be successful in business.

The truth is that if you go above and beyond for every customer your business will fail.

Or, at least, your profitability decreases.

Dramatically.

The new rule: My ideal customer deserves 100%. The rest can eat dirt.

There are a tons of customers who make it their goal to get as much as they can out of a business.

They make your life miserable.

You have to give them discounts, freebies and engage them constantly.

Here’s an idea:

The business owner is always right.

The business owner determines the ideal customer.

And the business determines the rules.

Scary?

At first.

Not when you think about it.

You just can’t serve everyone and make everyone happy.

It’s not possible.

When you offer a premium product, a customer looking for deals is wrong for you.

If you sell cheap airline tickets, customers can’t expect premium service.

The customer isn’t always right…for you!

In the end, it’s about the business owner.

You run the business.

You have to make sure to run it profitably.

And be around in 10 years.

If your customer isn’t right for you, you can’t deliver on your promise.

You can’t be loved by everyone.

But you should be loved by the right customers.

The ones you chose.

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I leave the safety of the cab by exiting at the Mahim railway station, surrounded by the typical craziness of Mumbai traffic: thousand of honks and near misses. The tour guide meets me at the ticket counter and we head down to the Dharavi Slum, the largest slum in Asia with more than 1 million inhabitants. We walk across a filthy, trash-filled creek. Little kids taking a shower in the middle of rubbish, people digging through dirt.

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Before we enter the lively, residential area I take this shot. Out of respect for the inhabitants, the tour guide requests of me not to take pictures inside. We walk into the slum, maneuvering carefully to ensure we do not step in anything nasty. We learn that of the 1 million legal residents (about 1.4 million if you include illegals) 100% have electricity and running water, 90% have a television and 15% own a computer. 1 toilet is shared with 2,000 others.

We see the remains of our lifestyle: plastic cups, plastic spoons, plastic bottles. And we experience how the slum residents use these remains to make a living. Our first stop is the plastic recycling district, where discarded plastics are sorted by color, crushed, melted and then dried.

Slums Roof

We go deep inside a small shop, climb up three flights to end up on the roof of this shop. That’s the place where huge mounds of plastic are being dried for hours, dragged back down and then cut into tiny pellets. Just to transform into toys your children might play with every day. In the middle of this picture (Ok, I took one picture from inside.) you can see the cell phone tower, one of many that helps people stay connected to the world. On the left is one of the numerous apartment buildings of the luxurious suburb of Bandra, bordering the slum, with a price tag of $50,000-$150,000 for a studio.

The next few hours touring Dharavi slum are upsetting and make me feel uncomfortable in my white, affluent skin. But they are also the most inspirational moments of my life.

I expected misery and destitute people. Instead, I experience a community filled with entrepreneurs and small business industries not accepting the odds or destiny. They didn’t give up or went the route of begging, being dependent on others. They took life by the horns and thrive against all odds.

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(The following pictures were taken at the outskirts of the Dharavi slum.)

We crouch through corridor-like pathways between houses made from reclaimed trash as the blue sky turns into darkness inside the tight living quarters. We see houses where women weave baskets while their babies sleep on dirty mattresses. Little kids touch me, say “Hi” and “Bye”, trying to connect with me. Nobody asks for money. We just look at each other: curious, two worlds colliding. Everybody is busy working, washing, cleaning, getting on with their lives. We see bakeries that make snacks for the outside world. We see the pottery district where thick smoke covers a whole block, turning everything in its path black.

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Here is the final product, diligently cleaned by this women to sell to the outside world.

The majority of this work is dangerous, there are no rules or regulations. And, it’s incredibly dirty. Filthy. But it’s a living, an income. That counts for a lot in a city of 14 million where half of its residents live in a slum, many of them just surviving by begging on the street. Dharavi is home to around 15,000 small businesses (ranging from recycling, pottery, and embroidery to bakeries, soap factories, and leather tanning) and generates some $700 million each year.

Slums Street

Reality Tours offers various options to explore the amazing world of the Dharavi Slum. 80% of the proftis from the tours are put into a slum kindergarten and education center through Reality Cares, a non-governmental organization. Residents can acquire basic computer skills (PowerPoint, Excel, Word, etc.) for free in a 15-week course. The company also offers bike tours, overnight stays in villages and combos of sightseeing/slum tour.

This might not be for everyone. It’s heart-breaking, inspirational, upsetting and invigorating. It will change all your perceptions about slums and poverty. Most importantly, you will leave a changed person.