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A Lasting Impact

Mario Burbano, a United customer service representative in Quito, Ecuador, exemplifies flyer-friendly service

Author Ryan Hood


More than a year after their brief encounter, the name Mario Burbano still resonates with Tom Proulx. For Proulx, the name is synonymous with excellent customer service.

Burbano is a United customer service representative in Quito, Ecuador. Proulx, a co-founder of the software company Intuit and a long-time United customer, flew to Quito in late 2014 to compete in the Adventure Racing World Championships. Adventure Racing is an eight-day haul that involves trekking, mountain biking, and kayaking, meaning lots and lots of gear, including a mountain bike. He flew to Ecuador before the race but had to return home for a medical emergency.

“As I was checking in for my return flight, I casually asked the check-in agent (Mario) about an excess baggage embargo,” Proulx says. “The agent didn’t immediately have the information, but it was just a hypothetical question out of my own curiosity.”

This was a 30-second conversation as Burbano checked Proulx in. The medical emergency turned out not to be severe, so Proulx repacked his gear and flew back to Ecuador.

“As I was waiting for my mountain bike to come off the conveyor, a United employee called over to me—by name,” Proulx recalls. “It was Mario. Somehow he remembered me.”
This stunned Proulx but was standard practice for Burbano.

“I think of our customers as if they are one of my family members,” Burbano says. “They want to be treated with respect, and that’s what I strive for.”

Mission accomplished, according to Proulx, as he still tells companions the story of six ways Burbano’s service still resonates with him:

  • “He recognized me.”
  • “He remembered my name.”
  • “He remembered the pronunciation of my name.” (Proulx rhymes with true.)
  • “He remembered our conversation.”
  • “He had taken the time to research the issue I had asked him about, even though I asked purely out of curiosity.”
  • “He had tried to email me to answer my question, even though the way I asked him made it clear that I didn’t really need an answer—I was just curious.”

“This was absolutely above and beyond the call of duty and the most amazing customer service I have ever experienced from any company in any industry,” Proulx says. “I was
blown away.”

Providing great customer service is a cornerstone of United’s mission as a company. It’s how the company leaves a lasting impression and builds toward the “flyer-friendly” promise it has made to customers. United has four foundational service principles—be predictable, be the solution, be gracious, and be the brand—that guide everything the company does. These are the basics of delivering a friendly experience for customers and co-workers.

For Burbano, the opportunity to provide flyer-friendly service to different people who hail from all kinds of backgrounds is the most enjoyable part of the job. It’s something that helps him to learn and to improve as a person.

“I feel gratified whenever any difficult issue is resolved,” Burbano says. “Knowing you’ve assisted customers—that they can now relax with the knowledge that we don’t view them as just a name or a number but rather as human beings—that’s the best. There is a lot of competition in this industry, but we can really separate ourselves through customer service, by treating our customers honestly, respectfully, and fairly. I was overwhelmed by Mr. Proulx’s kind words. I was just doing my job as best as I can.”

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