Your "customers" can see the portal and the items they raise, or are included on. If you want them to see more, then yes, they need to sign up as a full JIRA user. Although, if you allowed anonymous access (read only, of course) to projects, they'd also be able to see the project that way.
I have multiple projects that use variations of the same base workflow. The variations depend on the requirements of the project or issue type. The variations mostly come in the form of new statuses ...
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