Service Desk vs. Help Desk: How to Tell Them Apart

Zack Busch
Zack Busch  |  April 2, 2019

It bothers me when things don’t work the way they should.

As a customer though, when I reach out for help, I’m looking for someone totally different than the person I’m looking for when my work computer stops working. These two people I’m reaching out to perform totally different jobs, but they’re pretty easy to mix up. Let’s take a look at the service desk and the help desk.


To start, let’s take a quick look at what service desks and help desks are.

What is a service desk?

The service desk is built around a company’s internal IT infrastructure.

Service desk analysts will often receive request tickets through service desk software. These tickets focus on internal device issues (such as a broken computer), access problems (like a password reset), or software troubles (say, an invalid software license). A new hire’s device setup would typically also go through a company’s service desk.

What is a help desk?

A help desk, unlike a service desk, is an outward-facing entity.

If customers experience issues with a company’s products, services or accounts, help desk personnel are the ones they reach out to for assistance. Help desks exist to remedy customer issues, and so, by creating a quality support experience for consumers, they are a company’s consumer-facing PR team. Companies utilize help desk software to organize incoming requests and address them quickly.


Service desk vs. help desk

It’s not difficult to get the concepts of service desk and help desk confused. In fact, even industry professionals (including myself, as a former support analyst for corporate help desks) will use the two terms interchangeably because of how similar their functions are. Let me explain.

service desk vs help desk diagram

Service desk and help desk similarities

Service desks and help desks exist to remedy issues and perform preventive maintenance. That is to say, they fix what’s not working and they do their best to make sure that what’s already working stays that way.

For both types of IT desks, employees or customers will contact support analysts with requests and issues to remedy. Analysts most frequently see problems like forgotten login credentials or questions about licensing or setup, but they may also come across complicated issues that they escalate to more specialized teams.

Preventive maintenance can also be an important part of both the service desk and help desk process. Because it’s crucial for systems and devices to stay running optimally, part of an analyst’s daily or weekly routine can involve performing upkeep on existing systems. Software updates and hardware health checks are some examples of this kind of routine activity.

Service desk and help desk differences

While service desks are looking out for your employees’ IT well-being, help desks exist to aid your customers’ experience. Help desks focus on different audiences (customers vs. employees) because these two groups’ needs are fundamentally different.

Companies have distinct technical needs internally. Computers, mobile devices, projectors, printers and more all need to function every day. Since that functionality is so necessary in the digital age, it’s critical that companies have at least one person (or a full team if need be) that can troubleshoot and maintain a company’s tech.

Asset management is another important service desk function, as its personnel can keep an eye on which employees have which devices, where equipment is located and more. IT assets are an investment. To get the most out of that investment, service desk analysts can keep those assets up to date and at the best performance level possible.

In contrast, help desks perform some unique functions since they are customer-facing. First, they’re not necessarily limited to supporting technological issues. While tech issues can be a part of the scope, help desk analysts can also support things like warranties, customer experience and general inquiries, to name a few.

Second, help desks can function as customer-facing PR teams for companies. Other than originally buying a product or service, the help desk is the part of a company that many consumers will also deal with. So, it’s imperative for businesses that customer experiences with the help desk are the best they can be. After all, customer reviews have power, and the customer experience is a big part of reviewing a company.

Use cases for the desks

While it may not be practical for small businesses to implement their own help desks or service desks, both are highly valuable as the size of a company increases. Ideally, as a company grows, a person or team should be the internal point of contact for any technical issues (the internal service desk), while a different person or team should be the point of contact for any customer issues (the help desk). This segmentation enables each team to focus on their specific tasks and reduces the probability of mix-ups between internal and external affairs.

Both service desks and help desks provide great value to a company’s day-to-day functions. Understanding the distinction will help your business build more effective support.

Want to build up your company’s help desk or service desk? Start here with the best free help desk systems and the best service desk software.

Zack Busch
Author

Zack Busch

Zack is a Research Specialist who made the jump to the research realm after three years in IT support services. He studied mathematics, physics, and education at Truman State University. Zack enjoys video gaming, D&D, movies, TCGs, and spending time with his partner, dog, and two cats.