How Just One Person at Smallpdf Handles Support for 15 Million Users

It all began in 2013 when the founders created a compression tool for their parents to reduce the size of scanned documents to send via email. Derived from this simple compression problem, the SaaS company now caters to over 15 million monthly users in 20 languages, with its set of 16 free document management tools. In just 5 short years, now sits comfortably within Alexa’s list of top 1000 most visited webpages, thanks to its clean design and powerful, yet simplistic functionalities.

Hung Nguyen smallpdf

We talked to Hung Nguyen about how he does support at Smallpdf.  Hung is the Business Developer & Customer Satisfaction Manager at Smallpdf which according to him is “the first PDF software you will actually like”. The support team there is Hung. With a team of one they handle support for 15 million users. ?

Here’s how the conversation went.

So, tell me Hung, how big is your support team and how do you do support at Smallpdf?

I am the only support person at Smallpdf.

However, for problems outside of my reach, our front and backend developers are always at hand for additional support. I think this is one of the greatest strengths in working at a startup. Our team is able to keep our work very lean and are always available for cross-departmental support.

If done right, as shown with Smallpdf, we can manage a site for over 15 million people pretty smoothly with just 10 people.

 A one-person support team! How do you scale customer support at Smallpdf?

Build a clean and user-friendly product and there will be less reach outs.

Smallpdf’s core values include simplicity, user-friendliness, and that we’re honest. Users simply click on the tool they want to use, upload their document, and let our software do the work. We have optimized our Kbase for search engines to help users find solutions themselves.

On top of that, Smallpdf developers are always happy to jump on a task right away to fix any recurring problem within that period. Hence, with a user base reaching 15 million users each month and processing about 1 million files daily, I get about 50 tickets on a daily basis, which is a great start.

We almost never really need to scale customer support, as problems are usually addressed almost immediately.

How do you motivate yourself day in and day out?

Users are our main source of motivation. — Hung @smallpdf ‏#customersupport #secretsauce Click To Tweet

Approximately 20% of the tickets I get are probably about how awesome Smallpdf is or how we’ve saved their lives — on various scales. Free users are especially grateful for the support. I think they generally don’t expect such detailed support from our end for a product that they don’t pay for. Users also play a big part in product improvement. They’re quick to report bugs.

It's encouraging to have a user base that loves the product as much as we try to make it. — Hung @smallpdf ‏#customersupport #secretsauce Click To Tweet

Do you provide support on social media? If so, how do you manage the channel (do you have specific people to handle social media, do you have SLAs, etc.)

I actively take part in managing our social channel sites. We integrate Facebook and Twitter into Freshdesk, thus all messages, tweets and mentions are automatically turned into tickets. All the support related tickets are promptly answered, solved and archived via Freshdesk. On the other hand, marketing related tickets are handled manually using one of our marketing tools. With this system, our work on social media never clashes, even though we have different team members using the site to interact with customers.  

What’s the most important metric you think a support rep should aim for? Why?

Customer happiness is intangible! There’s a difference with resolving a ‘ticket’ and a happy customer. We adopt metrics such as NPS (Net Promoter Score) to measure how likely the customers would be to refer Smallpdf to their friends and colleagues. Our score stays afloat around the 80s.

How do you measure customer happiness?

Smallpdf gets about 50 tickets on average, which is a very small fraction considering the fact that we have around 1 million unique users every day. Because of this, metrics outside of customer support (response time, average time spent on each customer) may be of greater importance, as it gives access to an overview for the other 99.9% — the majority of our user base.

Aside from the NPS, there are a few other metrics we implement. Smallpdf is very active on social media. Aside from product updates, we conduct various surveys and polls on social channels to get feedback from users.

What according to you are the most important traits a customer support rep should have?

I think being ‘user-centered’ covers the classic traits of a good support rep. This includes being friendly, patient and attentive with your customers, communicating clearly and making sure that they are heard, supported, and feel valued.

On top of that, it’s important to just be honest! There are never any strings attached to our product, and I always support users in exactly what they need. If they need to cancel a subscription, I cancel. If they want to learn how to cancel, I show them. If they are entitled to a refund, they’re always issued.

Be user-centred, operate with integrity, and always learn on the go. — Hung @smallpdf ‏#customersupport #secretsauce Click To Tweet

The last point is continuous learning. As an Internet-based SaaS startup, we operate in a space where technology is moving rapidly and so are the users and their experiences with our product. It’s crucial to provide support whilst keeping an open mind and expect unexpected surprises that are not be already linked to an existing problem.

What is the key thing that makes your customer support great?

For me it’s all about personalization. We live in the age of technological advancement and AI seems to be on the rise, but I don’t think exceptional customer support is something that can be replaced.

With things such as canned answers and automation with various apps within support, it can be easy to get complacent and lazy when it comes to dealing with individual customers. Sometimes, I even follow up after a ticket has been closed to make sure the user’s doing ok.

I always try to read between the lines and identify the root problem, even before customers know what it is. — Hung @smallpdf ‏#proactivesupport #secretsauce Click To Tweet

How do you deal with requests for features

-that are in the works, but might take a long time
-you’re never going to build

We get new feature requests every day and currently that number stands at 789 tickets.

I keep tags for all feature requests within Freshdesk which I keep track of and present to our team at our quarterly meetings. As they accumulate over time, we are able to identify patterns for the most dire features to be implemented.

For features that are in the works, I give users a timeframe of when it will be available. If possible, I also guide them to an alternative. For features that had been worked on, but we did not have the resources to finish up, I tell them that it’s been put on hold, tag the ticket and get back to them when it’s finally available. There’s never been a time that I have stated that a feature will never be available.

Tell me about a really tough call and how you handled it.

One compelling case was an enraged lady emailing us reporting ‘an unknown charge being taken from her bank account by a company called Smallpdf ’. After patiently going back and forth with the customer for a few days, accessing various contact info in detail, we issued a refund and also carefully reminded her to report this to her banking provider. Turned out, it was her daughter who had used her credit card to create a Smallpdf account and had been using us on a daily basis for her school work.

In the end, the mom actually converted to a paid user on top of renewing her daughter’s account, as she was so impressed with our communication, service and product. It was a happy ending.

What’s your biggest time-saving trick?

I always sort tickets from back to front – oldest to newest (which is not very good for getting scores on Freshdesk’s Arcade*, may I add).

Some customers write multiple times throughout the day. With this method, I avoid repeatedly answering tickets created by the same customer.

This works well with training your short-term memory as well. ?

I also keep the more complex tickets as “Pending” by creating a customer ticket status, and go through them with our lead engineer at the end. This ensures that we have sufficient time at hand to go over our work without negatively affecting the workflow of other team members.

Of course, no time-saving trick would be complete without the inclusion of Freshdesk’s canned answers. My trick with these is also to keep them as short and concise as possible, which leaves room for personalization for each individual case and prevents confusion with customers.

What do you think is the secret sauce to customer happiness?

Build relationships!

You want your customers to view support as a gateway to their problems, rather than a dreadful space they resort to last minute for quick fixes.

I have customers writing back to me months after our first conversation and they would always remember and address the tickets to ‘Hung’, rather than the generic ‘Smallpdf Support’. I think that’s a huge win.

As one customer once said to me, my title should be changed from Customer Satisfaction Manager to Customer Enthusiasm Provider. I couldn’t agree more; it was in line with my view on customer satisfaction.

What does a typical day look like?

I start my day with customer support (well, maybe with a cup of coffee) and end my day with customer support. In the middle, I do a mix of marketing, business development and recruitment — all very people-centric tasks.

How did you end up in customer support?

I’m a big people person at heart. I love to outreach, support, and take pride in my communication skills. My role at Smallpdf combines all of these elements, which is just about as perfect as it gets.

What’s the best thing about working for Smallpdf?

I love the product and am proud to stand behind it. Its simplicity, ease of use, and how powerful the processing is, despite the ‘small’ label.

Our customer base is ever growing and my learning curve’s never diminished since joining. Being able to work in the tech space and getting to wear different hats, catering to millions of people and really feeling an impact of the product on people’s daily work lives — I couldn’t ask for more.

Smallpdf team

Oh, we also have unlimited coffee and soft drinks, lots of cake, hack days and occasional ski trips. (Welcome to Switzerland).

In terms of customer service, which company do you admire a lot?

Amazon’s customer support is amazing. A parcel of mine was stolen/misplaced earlier in the year and I was able to get my hands on replacements, free of charge, expedited within 24 hours.

Name another rep you’re a big fan of, and would like to hear from.

Paul May from BuzzStream. Even though their product is an outreach application for PR, his messages always feel personal, rather than a pitch or marketing email.

Fun question: A random genie appears and you get three wishes. You can’t ask for more wishes or more genies. What would you wish for?

That’s easy! More hours in the day to become an instant polyglot and perpetually stable internet connection. All are very applicable to good customer support, I may say! ?

*We took that feedback from Hung on Freshdesk Arcade and are working on making the feature better.

We started the Secret Sauce series to find out more about what makes the customer service of some great companies click. We get in touch with one awesome support rep and pick their brains. We find out all about their support process, what inspires them to go above and beyond the call of duty to make their customers happy. If you know of a customer support rep you’d like to see featured here, drop us a line in the comments or shoot an email to

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