Perhaps it makes sense to start a topic on a wider discussion along the lines of “Using Discourse as a replacement for a Support / Help Desk system” From what I can see on this forum, there are quite a few topics under this general theme, and its one of the things I’m considering.
The specific needs for such a system I think will vary a lot depending on the type of product being supported, the size of the customer base, and the size of the team supporting it. As a small team dealing in a relatively niche market, we have various people pitching in to support customers, but often there is some discussion about a problem internally, or someone cc’d on an issue may jump in and offer a suggestion.
We used to do most of our support by email, so there would be explicit branching of the conversations by changing the subject line with an [internal] prefix and changing the cc list. That at least made it easier to reply to the right thread, and therefore, the right people.
The private reply feature in something like Zendesk is seductive, but its been a bit problematic in my experience. Perhaps the idea is good and its just a problem with the execution. The difference in the UI when editing one vs the other isn’t loud enough I don’t think. And the other issue is just with how we’ve been using it, which is particular to us: we still end up using email as a primary interface so many posts are made by replying to an email thread. The way we set things up, the reply will be private if it comes from email@example.com, but public if it comes from firstname.lastname@example.org. A cool idea, but again, prone to the mistake of sending as the wrong person.
I’m not so concerned with leaking private information with an accidental public reply as I am with wasted effort and confusion that arises from the accidents.
It’s often easier for the customer to have a ‘single point of contact’ for the issue. So when a random message is posted talking about them in the 3rd person, its just awkward.
Usually, the accident is that someone replies privately by accident, and then inevitably others feel obligated to chime in with additional noise “hey, you realize your message didn’t go to the customer, right?”
In any case, I’d be interested to test out what @lightyear recommended, but even in that context, I do think this is important:
I haven’t played around with private topic or categories in discourse, so I don’t know what that experience is like, but it would be good for them to look very different (kind of like incognito mode in chrome).