How to Set Up a Support Forum with the Support System Plugin

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.
WPMU DEV's support page
At WPMU DEV, we offer 24/7 support.

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:

adding ticket categories with the support system plugin

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:

support system general settings page

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:

pages set up in the WordPress admin

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.

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]
support system shortcodes in settings screen

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:

submit ticket screen

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:

support tickets in admin screen

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:

support tickets listed in the 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:

a support ticket in the front end site

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:

replying to a ticket in the front end

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:

adding category links via the menu admin screen

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:

support categories in the navigation menu

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.

Rachel McCollin
Do you offer support to your clients? If so, how do you do it? Have you tried out our Support System plugin? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

4 Responses

  • friend of Bill. W.

    Great post Rachel,
    wpmudev has such a large collection of premium plugins that it helps to highlight them individually in detail just as you have done here.
    by doing so it can catch the attention of members and they may benefit by seeing first hand how the plugins are used in the real world ; realize features they did not know existed (yes wpmudev docs needs serious updating) ; and possibly ditch other 3rd party plugins as they are now convinced the plugin can indeed fit their needs etc.

    the beauty in this plugin is its “multisite” & “ProSites” integration :-)
    example : when creating a new ticket in multisite the user can actually select which site the ticket refers to – NOT available in the many other knowledge base / support / forum etc. plugins out there.

    however :-) the topic of the post was a bit misleading for me at first to be honest.
    1 – Can this plugin really be considered a “Forum” ?
    2 – bbpress (simple as it is) was built for scale ! since you mentioned that you use this for your clients, how does it perform/scale with large amounts of tickets ?
    3 – you started off highlighting all the benefits of a support forum, but wpmudevs new live chat takes away all those benefits does it not ? and in fact the UX is now steered towards the live chat avoiding the forums. DONT get me wrong i LOVE & APPRECIATED the live chat – it is ABSOLUTELY INVALUABLE !!! but just as other 3rd party live chat services/software would email the live chat transcript for the customers perusal, how about wpmudev automatically creating the live chat conversation/transcript into wpmudevs forum to maintain all the benefits you outlined ? :-)

    • Staff

      Hello, Randall.

      :-) Hope you are having a great day so far. Thank you for your feedback on our documents. I have notified our docs team to take a look at this.
      Wo do offer many plugins so our members can have a one-stop plugin and theme “mall”. It does help if you only have one company to deal with.
      WPMU DEV still has forums and members can either choose to post via the forum or get immediate assistance. Live support is simply there to help members get help quicker. Most problems get sorted quickly as the tech team can assist immediately.
      I think that adding a transcript option to the plugin will be a great feature. Please post a feature request. We love developing features our members love.

      Keep posting and reading our blog. We love feedback.

      Cheers,

      Michelle

  • Mr. LetsFixTheWorld

    I’ll echo the notes by @amused. Using a ticketing system as a forum is awkward. The Support plugin is a great utility to get info from and to users. But I believe real forum software is better for, uh, a real forum.

    Behind the Support plugin, even for one-person businesses we also need an issue tracker like MantisBT, Bugzilla, etc. The Support plugin tracks discussions. An issue tracker tracks the effort resulting from those discussions. When an effort is complete, the Support plugin record should get updated. While I know/believe/hope WPMU DEV uses a real tracking system, I don’t think it’s linked to the Support items. To fix that, a custom field is required in the issue tracker, to link back all Support records, and (completely missing) in the workflow, when tasks are Assigned, in Development, Completed, and Published, an auto-post to the Support records would be awesome. That only takes a small bit of code. Then (following on to the social/business benefits of having open Support data) users know when their issues are being processed, or not. It’s incredibly uplifting to know a product is being changed in response to entry of a Support ticket, that the issue wasn’t forgotten or ignored, that the effort wasn’t wasted.

    So we’re talking about three things here:
    – Public-facing logs of user exchanges
    – Internal issue tracker items resulting from those exchanges
    – Forums for discussions which are not intended to generate back-end effort, but may do so.

    The Support system here is being advertised and used as a one-product-fits-all solution. It’s a fine, simple utility, but it does Not serve all of these purposes well, and should not be used as such, given that there is So much specialty software available for each specific purpose.

    To be clear, all of this is about environments where there is some kind of development, specifically software, but it can be applied to any business where there is a lot of process and customization. For a site for a business that buys and resells material goods, consultation, etc, the Support plugin may be entirely adequate for all of these needs.

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