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How to Convert WordPress into a Helpdesk

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Questions are fantastic. Even questions from customers are great, though they can take up time to answer. Questions from our customers give us insight into what they want or need. Customer questions can help us come up with ideas for new products or services.

At the very least, when a customer gets in touch to ask a question, it offers you an opportunity to give them a positive experience of your business.

The problem with customer questions comes when you're bombarded by inquiries from customers, especially when you're asked the same question over and over again. You can get so busy answering customer queries that you've got no time for anything else. When that happens, you know you must take action.

What can you do? Your best bet is to set up a helpdesk.

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What's the Point of a Helpdesk?

A helpdesk is any resource you set up to give customers answers to questions they have about your products, services or business. Helpdesks can be provided through a telephone customer-service team, email support, instant messaging, websites, and online forums.

One problem with these solutions is cost. Even online solutions for helpdesks don't come cheap. Most helpdesk software providers charge a monthly fee. While paying out big bucks for an online helpdesk no doubt works for big businesses with seven-figure profits, but that's not an affordable solution for microbusinesses.

In this article, we'll look at how small business owners can turn any website or subdomain into a helpdesk without it becoming a big expense. This solution is quality, low-cost, and runs on WordPress, so it's nice and easy to set up.

We'll show you how to set up a WordPress theme called Support Desk. The theme was created by ThemeForest designer Chris Mooney.

Of course, Chris thinks having an online helpdesk is a great idea for all businesses, whatever their size. In Chris's own words:

If you're supporting a product or service you'll quickly find that your users will start asking questions, lots of them. You will quickly find yourself replying to similar questions over and over again. It starts taking time away from running your business, and lets face it, replying to the same questions every day gets dull.

This is where a help desk can help. Having a help desk enables your users to discover solutions to issues they might be encountering with your product or service. Allowing users to help themselves with common issues can drastically reduce the burden of support on yourself and your staff. Scaling your support efficiently can greatly smooth-out the day-to-day running of your business and most importantly, save you money.

In short, having an online helpdesk:

  • Saves you time. With an online helpdesk, you choose when you answer questions. You're not disturbed by a ringing telephone or the ping of new emails in your inbox. What's more, as you answer questions on your online helpdesk, you build up a base of knowledge that customers can search through before they get in touch. You'll no longer find yourself answering the same question over and over again.
  • Saves you money. An online helpdesk is far more cost-effective than hiring a team of troubleshooters to respond to questions via email and telephone.
  • Keeps your customers satisfied. We all know how frustrating it can be to have questions about a product we've purchased that we can't get answered. An online helpdesk gives customers the resources they need to answer most of their questions themselves. You can provide excellent customer service without spending a fortune.
  • Creates a community around your business. Online helpdesks can include community forums, where customers help one another with questions. Not only does this save you time and resources. It creates a vibrant community around your business. When people feel part of what you're doing, they'll want to spread the word. If nothing else, that's great marketing.

Now you know what a helpdesk can do for your business, let's take a look at how you can get set up.

Tutorial Assets

To complete this tutorial, you will need:

  • A website running WordPress, or a domain and hosting account which you manage through cPanel. (Most major web hosting providers offer cPanel.)
  • A copy of the Support Desk theme. This can be purchased from ThemeForest.

supportdesk-01

Install Support Desk

You can install Support Desk as the main theme for your site, or on a subdomain, such as help.yoursite.com.

Installing Support Desk on a subdomain means you can benefit from a company helpdesk without giving over your whole website to the helpdesk format. That said, if you want to keep things simple, Support Desk can function as both a helpdesk and a blog, which we'll come to later.

Note: If you've already got WordPress installed on your website, you can skip straight to Step 4 below.

Step 1 (Optional): Set Up a Subdomain

Log into your website's control panel. Scroll down to the Domains menu and select Subdomains.

Next, choose a name for your subdomain. I recommend help.yoursite.com or helpdesk.yoursite.com.

Enter the name of your subdomain into the Subdomain box. CPanel will automatically suggest a suitable Document Root.

Click Create.

Step 2: Install WordPress

As Support Desk is a WordPress theme, you need a WordPress installation to use it. You can install WordPress manually, but if you use cPanel you can install it with Fantastico.

In cPanel, head to Fantastico. In the menu on the left, select WordPress, then Install WordPress.

Fill out the form.

Pay attention to the domain you are installing WordPress to. If you've set up a subdomain, you want to install it there. Also, take note of your username and password.

When you're done click Install WordPress then Finish Installation.

Head over to the domain you've set up to check WordPress has installed correctly.

Step 3: Log Into WordPress

Go to your WordPress admin page. If you've been following the instructions so far, this will be at help.yourdomain.com/wp-admin. You'll be asked for the username and password you chose in the previous step.

Step 4: Install the Support Desk Plugin

On the left menu in the WordPress Dashboard, click Plugins. Then click Upload.

On the left menu in the WordPress Dashboard, click Appearance. Next, click Install Themes, then Upload.

Now, select Choose File and select the Support Desk zip file on your computer.

Note: When you purchase the Support Desk theme, you are sent a zip file that contains the theme zip file, as well as other files (including supporting documentation). It's the theme zip file that you must select to install Support Desk onto WordPress.

Once you've installed the theme, you'll notice some extra menu options in the WordPress dashboard:

We'll look at how to use these in the next section.

Set Up Support Desk

WordPress is primarily known as a blogging platform, and Support Desk transforms WordPress into a helpdesk. That means there's some work to do getting Support Desk set up properly. Detailed instructions are included in the theme's documentation, so we'll just cover the basics here.

Step 1: Set Up Pages

Support Desk requires the Pages of your WordPress website to be set up in a particular way.

In WordPress, go to Pages > Add New.

First, create an empty page called Home. In the Page Attributes section, set the Template to Homepage, as here:

Click Publish.

Next, create an empty page called News. For this page, leave the Template as Default Template.

Now go to Settings > Reading. Under Front Page Displays select A static page.

For the Front Page, choose Home, and for the Posts Page, choose News, as here:

Save your changes.

Note: The News page is where any blog posts you write will show up, so you could also call it Blog. Having a News page or blog on Support Desk is optional, but it's a good way to integrate your blog and helpdesk into a single website.

Step 2: Add Up Your Own Headline and Tagline

By default, the homepage looks like this:

There is a lot you can do to customize the Homepage with your own branding.

First, change the headline and tagline. In the WordPress dashboard, go to Appearance > Theme Options. Then select the tab Homepage Options. Here, you can change the headline and tagline.

When you're done, click Save Options.

Step 2: Pick Your Colors

To choose your theme colors, go to Appearance > Customize. Then select Styling. Here you can choose your link color and theme color. I've changed the link color to black, and changed the theme color to a nice blue:

choosing colors

When you've chosen the colors you want, click Save & Publish at the top.

Step 3: Add Your Logo

Staying in the Appearance > Customize menu, select Site Title and Tagline. Here you can add your logo, which will appear in the top left of your Support Desk website.

Under Site Logo, click Upload New then Select a file. Choose your logo from your computer files.

Once it's uploaded, click Save & Publish. Now the homepage looks like this:

new screenshot 1

Much better!

Advanced Support Desk Features

That's the essentials of getting set up, but there's way more to Support Desk if you dig a little deeper.

Support Desk allows you to provide all kinds of Helpdesk features that can be linked directly from your homepage, including a Knowledge Base, Community Forum, and FAQ section.

The FAQ page is ideal for answering common pre-sale and post-sale questions. It features interactive questions. Customers can click the question they've got to expand the answer. It looks like this:

new screenshot 2

To add a FAQ page, in the WordPress dashboard go to FAQs > Add FAQ. To create your main FAQ page, set up a FAQ called FAQs. For each question you add, create a new FAQ, and select the FAQs page as the parent directory.

The Knowledge Base is a directory of articles and guides, providing your customers with the helpdesk information they need. The live search feature means customers can find solutions to their problems quickly and easily.

Here's what the live search looks like in action:

new screenshot 3

Knowledge Base articles can be added in the WordPress dashboard by going to Knowledge Base > New Article.

As well as being searchable, Knowledge Base articles are listed on the Homepage.

Support Desk also allows you to create a community forum, which can be searched along with the Knowledge Base articles.

To get the forum up and running, you'll need to install the bbPress plugin, which can be downloaded here, or installed from the WordPress dashboard by going to Plugins > Add New, then searching "bbpress".

Note: Detailed instructions for setting up all these features are included in the Support Desk documentation.

Taking Support Desk to the Next Level

As with any site that's created with WordPress, a helpdesk built using Support Desk is highly customizable, not least because of the vast array of plugins that are available.

We asked Chris Mooney, creator of Support Desk, for the plugins he recommends. He suggested the following to optimize Support Desk:

  • W3 Total Cache. This plugin helps to keep your website in tip-top shape. In Chris's words, this plugin "will go a long way to making your site swift and quick making sure your users can find what they need with minimal load times."
  • Google Analytics for WordPress. This plugin, created by web optimization experts Yoast, lets you see how people are finding and using your site. Chris says: "You can use the data which is tracked by this plugin to find out which content is helping your users and if they're searching for solutions that you're not providing."

Over to You

Have you ever considered setting up an online helpdesk for your business? What features do you like to see when you need online support from a business?

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