Using forums for client communications

Mangini

Well-known member
Today I've started the process of transitioning client communications from sporadic email chains to private sections on my forums. It dawned on me as I was cleaning out my inbox that I tend to miss messages and fall out of email chains more often than I should, yet I never miss anything posted on my forums. I think that speaks to the level of organization a well thought out forum layout can bring to one's digital life... and maybe exposes my laziness at keeping up with emails. :D

In terms of offering clients more reliable communication I think the change of format is a no-brainer but it is still a change and one that is at first less convenient at first. They will have to register, learn to post, and get used to checking their private forum, but overcoming that friction will be better than email in a few ways:
  • As mentioned, this is the most reliable way for me to communicate with them over the long run
  • Makes it easier for them to find our past discussions and attachments without clutter of their own inbox all the same
  • Access the greater forum community for networking, promotions, and finding answers on their own (cuts down support)
  • Gives the feel of more exclusive access than just shooting yet another email into the void
I don't think this approach will do away with email completely but if it can deliver the benefits above then I think it will be a great move for everybody involved. Besides easier communication, my number one goal is to provide better value for my clients and I think this can help increase our productivity together as well as as bring other benefits to the forum itself.

From the admin side all I've done is create a private category with private forums for each client and assigned individual user permissions to ensure nobody else has access. Pretty basic really. I doubt these ideas are new to most of you but I wanted to share my thought process (and excitement!) to see if anybody has experience mixing client services in with their forums and what the results looked like.
 

Russ

Well-known member
The whole concept of inbox zero helped me with my email management a ton, now I'm addicted to it.

As for client communications, I've run a client support site (Pixel Exit) for years. XF has served it well. We use a private node with permission to view only your own threads which it sounds like you have already. Some tweaks we've done:

  • Custom node navigation linking to the support area
  • Custom phrasing conditionals to replace small things like "Create thread" to "Create Ticket"
  • Custom template conditionals to add little blocks to easily navigate around the "support area":
    Screenshot_11.png
  • I watch this forum so that I get email alerts which go back to my inbox zero making sure I respond to everything
  • I disabled conversations on my site to streamline the support avenues so I don't miss things
  • Add-on wise, I use Post Macros: https://xenforo.com/community/resources/liam-w-post-macros.5631/ to easily automate actions of closing out tickets. It'll shoot a response + close the ticket out which is nice
Just some ideas though :D
 

Mangini

Well-known member
Thank you for sharing your wisdom here @Russ, this is exactly what I was hoping to learn about when I posted this thread!

As for client communications, I've run a client support site (Pixel Exit) for years. XF has served it well. We use a private node with permission to view only your own threads which it sounds like you have already. Some tweaks we've done:
I must have missed the "view only your own threads" permission because this is WAY better than creating individual forums as I have already setup. I was concerned about the clutter of having so many extra forums for potentially only a handful of posts, but this one forum to rule them all approach just saved me a big mess down the road!

Custom template conditionals to add little blocks to easily navigate around the "support area":
It looks like you've had plenty of activity in the forum itself, but how often do you find members going to your "Support ticket" (I presume is email/support tickets mod)? This seems to fill the need of handling more urgent support requests which was a drawback I thought the forum approach would have.

Add-on wise, I use Post Macros: https://xenforo.com/community/resources/liam-w-post-macros.5631/ to easily automate actions of closing out tickets. It'll shoot a response + close the ticket out which is nice
Definitely using this, the lock thread/assign prefix action will be valuable for me.

Thank you for showing a little of the behind the scenes. :)
 

Russ

Well-known member
So the "Support" area on my site is a general support area in which all customers can see and reply.

The tickets are private, that is the node setup with the "View threads by others" (sorry this is the permission), I set this to no on the support tickets. 182 pages of tickets, 115 pages of general community support.

We use an edit like this: https://xenforo.com/community/resources/thread-reply-banner.6222/ to show a little notice above the community support forums not to post sensitive details and disclosing it's a public area.
 

sixlxvi

Well-known member
Today I've started the process of transitioning client communications from sporadic email chains to private sections on my forums. It dawned on me as I was cleaning out my inbox that I tend to miss messages and fall out of email chains more often than I should, yet I never miss anything posted on my forums. I think that speaks to the level of organization a well thought out forum layout can bring to one's digital life... and maybe exposes my laziness at keeping up with emails. :D

In terms of offering clients more reliable communication I think the change of format is a no-brainer but it is still a change and one that is at first less convenient at first. They will have to register, learn to post, and get used to checking their private forum, but overcoming that friction will be better than email in a few ways:
  • As mentioned, this is the most reliable way for me to communicate with them over the long run
  • Makes it easier for them to find our past discussions and attachments without clutter of their own inbox all the same
  • Access the greater forum community for networking, promotions, and finding answers on their own (cuts down support)
  • Gives the feel of more exclusive access than just shooting yet another email into the void
I don't think this approach will do away with email completely but if it can deliver the benefits above then I think it will be a great move for everybody involved. Besides easier communication, my number one goal is to provide better value for my clients and I think this can help increase our productivity together as well as as bring other benefits to the forum itself.

From the admin side all I've done is create a private category with private forums for each client and assigned individual user permissions to ensure nobody else has access. Pretty basic really. I doubt these ideas are new to most of you but I wanted to share my thought process (and excitement!) to see if anybody has experience mixing client services in with their forums and what the results looked like.
I just made a similar thread about this: https://xenforo.com/community/threa...nd-client-portal-video-example-inside.188338/

Here is my example/the direction I’m taking it. I haven’t had time to put much effort into it yet so what you see in the video was just for demonstrating. I do plan to fully commit to this soon.

 

sixlxvi

Well-known member
Besides the private section for tickets, a lot of my priority is stripping most of the features XenForo comes with. I want it to be as simple as possible. User profiles, avatars, signatures, private messages, post counts, join date, what’s new pages, etc, are all irrelevant in my opinion.

Otherwise though, the backend and frontend tools that you have with XF as both the admin and client make it so much better than regular email.

I am a little biased because I’ve never liked using email for any purpose. In 2020 I’m surprised we haven’t collectively migrated to something that somehow feels more modern than traditional email.
 

RobinHood

Well-known member
I am a little biased because I’ve never liked using email for any purpose. In 2020 I’m surprised we haven’t collectively migrated to something that somehow feels more modern than traditional email.

Many have. Most ticketing systems such a freshdesk etc, while can parse incoming emails and send reply via emails, provide rich admin user interfaces to more easily follow threads, access attachments, allow agents to make notes, reassign tickets to other agents etc.

Your system looks good for an XF install though :)
 

Alan_SP

Active member
From the admin side all I've done is create a private category with private forums for each client and assigned individual user permissions to ensure nobody else has access. Pretty basic really. I doubt these ideas are new to most of you but I wanted to share my thought process (and excitement!) to see if anybody has experience mixing client services in with their forums and what the results looked like.
I once tried something similar, enabled people to create threads in forum if they are right usergroup, and that forum allowed users to see only their own threads. So, it's a bit easier setup, only one forum.
 

sixlxvi

Well-known member
How are you handling ordering and payments? Third party software?
Undecided right now. Potential options are a modified XF account upgrade system, a modified XF resource manager, DB-Tech eCommerce, or third party (though I'm obviously trying to do it all within XF).
 

sixlxvi

Well-known member
@Mike Creuzer -- I just watched XF Insights and you mentioned having used XF a handful of times for websites that aren't really forums. Do you have any examples? I'm really curious what they looked like.
 

Mike Creuzer

Well-known member
@Mike Creuzer -- I just watched XF Insights and you mentioned having used XF a handful of times for websites that aren't really forums. Do you have any examples? I'm really curious what they looked like.
I sent you a PC on one example site we're building right now that uses XenForo under the hood but is a custom react frontend entirely. One site that is going through a huge redevelopment stage currently, but is nonetheless live now, is BattlePro (XF1). And there are countless sites where we just do a part or section of it in XenForo and the rest static. Or even just use XenForo for feeds (using the API). Overall point was that people should consider XenForo also in the realm of development frameworks and as a CMS, not just as a forum software.
 

sixlxvi

Well-known member
I sent you a PC on one example site we're building right now that uses XenForo under the hood but is a custom react frontend entirely. One site that is going through a huge redevelopment stage currently, but is nonetheless live now, is BattlePro (XF1). And there are countless sites where we just do a part or section of it in XenForo and the rest static. Or even just use XenForo for feeds (using the API). Overall point was that people should consider XenForo also in the realm of development frameworks and as a CMS, not just as a forum software.
Your examples are great. Thanks for sharing them.
 
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