If you provide websites to clients or users, then you’ll need some way of letting your clients communicate with you to ask questions or raise problems. You might be doing this already via your site’s admin screens – but what about creating a support forum in the front-end of your site?
At WMPU DEV we have a very active support forum. This has real benefits:
- It shows current and potential members what benefits our support forums offer.
- It helps our members find the answers to their questions without having to raise their own ticket.
- It makes our support team more efficient, as they can direct members to existing threads if their question has already been answered in the forums.
- It acts as a community resource, something that all WordPress users can access and benefit from.
If you manage a Multisite network with multiple users, or you provide support for your website clients via their site’s admin screens, then you may well be already using our Support System plugin. Personally, I started using it when creating a Multisite network that allowed users to create their own sites. It continues to support my users, giving them a place where they can contact me for technical support and I can answer their questions.
But the Support System plugin doesn’t have to just run in the admin screens. You can also create support screens in the front end of your site, and publish answered support tickets on your support page. This gives you a support forum that lets your users view all answered tickets. It can also act as evidence of your WordPress expertise and the excellent service you provide to your clients, as well a being a community resource.
In this post, I’ll show you how to use the Support System plugin to create a support forum. This will include creating a screen for users to ask questions and then publishing the answers to questions on your site. This will all be on the front end of your site, although your users will also be able to see support tickets via the admin screens.
Installing and Configuring the Support System Plugin
The first step, if you haven’t already done it, is to install, activate and configure the plugin.
Once you’ve activated the plugin, you need to set up some ticket categories and configure the plugin’s settings.
Let’s start with the categories. Go to Support > Ticket Categories and create categories just as you would for normal post categories. I’m setting up an imaginary WordPress forum so my categories are WordPress related:
Now to configure the plugin settings. Go to Support > Settings to see the general setting screen for the plugin.
The plugin gives you options with regards to the support menu, emails and visibility. Edit the menu name, email ‘from’ field and email address if relevant.
Next, configure visibility. So all of your users can see all tickets, you’ll need to check all of the boxes:
Now click Save changes and the plugin is set up.
Creating Pages For Your Forum
To make your support forum public, you’ll need to create a page in your site for people to raise support tickets. Create a static page in the normal way, and call it Support. Don’t add anything to it just yet.
Repeat this for two more pages: the page for submitting new tickets and the page for publishing FAQs. This is where you’ll create FAQs to answer the most commonly asked questions.
Here are my pages:
Activating the Front End Support System
Now you’ll need to activate the front end element of the plugin. Go to Support > Settings > Front End and select the Activate Front End checkbox.
A range of options will appear. Complete them as follows:
- Use Support System styles: keep this checked unless you want to add your own styling. I’d only do this if you find that the styling for your theme clashes with the plugin styling.
- Support Page: select the Support page you just created.
- Submit new ticket Page: select the page you created for submitting tickets.
- FAQs Page: select the page you created for FAQs.
Now click the Save changes button.
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Populating the Support System Pages
Now that you’ve selected your pages and activated the front end, you need to add a shortcode to each of those pages. Go back into the pages and add the following shortcodes:
- Support page: [support-system-tickets-index]
- Submit new ticket page: [support-system-submit-ticket-form]
- FAQs page: [support-system-faqs]
Save each of those pages. Now add them to your site’s navigation menu.
Note: you don’t need the FAQs page to be active in your site if you’re just running a support forum and don’t want to publish any of the most frequently asked questions. However if you find that the same questions keep coming up again and again, you might find it helpful to create some FAQs.
When a user wants to ask a question, they can click on the support page, and click Submit new ticket to go to the ticket submission page:
Publishing Answered Tickets
Now that your forum is up and running, users can start to submit tickets. You might want to add a few yourself. Once those tickets have been submitted and answered, they’ll automatically be published to your site.
Here are some dummy support tickets I’ve added to my site:
Your next step is to answer the tickets. As you’ll be publishing the answers on your site, take some time to provide detailed responses.
Now here’s my support page:
Users can either submit a new ticket, search the existing tickets, or scroll through them. If I click on an answered ticket, I get to see the answer that’s been given:
And if I scroll down, I can add another response or thank the person who’s responded and let them know their solution worked for me:
This is where things start to get powerful, because it means that conversations can be published and viewed on the front end, which shows people just how useful your support forum is.
Adding Category Pages
If you go to the support page in your site and select a category, you’ll be shown all of the tickets in that category. You can harness this by using the link that’s generated to create pages in your site.
Visit each category in turn by clicking on the link in your support page, and copy the link it takes you to. Then add these as custom URLs in your navigation menu:
Now users can navigate to individual categories in your support forum by clicking links in the navigation menu as well as by clicking the category in the main support page:
A Support Forum Can Help Serve Your Clients and Boost Your Reputation
Adding a support forum to your website can provide a really useful resource for your clients, followers and users. Our support forum here at WPMU DEV is somewhere we help our members to get more from WordPress and from our products.
It will also help you to demonstrate how well you know your subject: if you can provide useful answers to people’s questions then they’ll be confident that you know your stuff.
Our support system plugin lets you add a support forum that works in the front end of your site as well as the back end, and if you follow the steps above it’s something you can create to help your users.