Service Desk vs. Help Desk: What’s the Difference?

Service Desk vs. Help Desk: What’s the Difference?

Service Desk vs. Help Desk. Hmmm. But…aren’t they the same thing?

If that’s your reaction, you’re not alone. It’s generally agreed there’s some gray area involved. So why make a big deal about it?

While strikingly similar at first glance, a closer and more practical look reveals differences that go beyond tomato-tomahto, potato-potahto wordplay. Because each represents a distinct strategic approach, determining whether you need one or both—and understanding why—can impact how your IT organization operates and satisfies customers.

Our goal here is to help demystify the topic with some break-it-down basics.

By Definition

Are there definitions that separate the terms service desk and help desk? In this case, our ‘dictionary’ is the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). If you’re not familiar, ITIL is a comprehensive framework of best practices for IT service management.

In differentiating between the two, ITIL looks at the IT process from beginning to end, mapping how they should be integrated into the overall business strategy.

  • The service desk is a key component of managing the overall process from a strategic ‘big picture’ cross-organizational perspective. It reviews the overall IT processes and functionality.
  • The help desk feeds into the service desk with a tactical, day-to-day role in responding to end-user needs. An overview of specific functions helps clarify.
Service Desk Focus – Client Strategy

Being the first point of contact in an organization for all IT questions, best practices service desks are process and company strategy focused. Functions can be outlined in five ITIL Core Service Lifecycles:

  1. Service Strategy: Evaluate current services, modifying and implementing new as required
  2. Service Design: Evaluate new services for introduction into business environment and ability to meet existing/future needs
  3. Service Transition: Ensure minimal business interruption during transitions
  4. Service Operation: Ongoing monitoring of service delivery
  5. Continual Service Improvement: Analyze opportunities to improve IT processes/functions

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Help Desk Ultimate Goal – First Contact Resolution

The help desk is a component of the service desk, most concerned with end-user functionality and providing incident management to ensure customers’ issues are resolved quickly. Tasks include:

  • Computer or software consultations
  • Change and configuration management
  • Problem escalation procedures
  • Problem resolution
  • Single point of contact (SPOC) for IT interruptions
  • Service level agreements
  • Tracking capabilities of all incoming problems
Do You Need Both?

A help desk is an absolute essential for providing actionable, technically skilled resources for problem resolution. Since a service desk generally takes a more proactive stance, addressing issues of a less urgent technical nature, some companies may not yet have need for its broader offerings.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of strategic and tactical differences, the bottom line is help desks and service desks share a common ‘reason for being.’ Their purpose is to meet the ever-heightening expectations of technology users—both internal and external to your organization—for the best possible service experience. If that goal is being successfully accomplished, you can most likely relax about sweating the semantics.

How to Make IT Customers Happy

Learn customer service best practices from the IT Service Excellence Tool Kit.