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Help desk vs Service desk

In fact, according to the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) v. 2nd definition, the service desk was just another term for the help desk.

However, the ITIL v. 3 that was released in 2007 and finally provided clarity about the difference between the two. Thus, the service desk was defined as a management component in the overall ITSM (IT Service Management) process, while the help desk was described as a component of the service desk that mainly focuses on end-user services.

The widespread adoption of ITIL by large businesses resulted in increased popularization of the term; “service desk” to refer to an organization’s IT support capabilities. A study conducted by HDI Connect in 2015 found that 36% of companies use the term ‘service desk’. On the other hand, 23% use ‘help desk’ when referring to their support centers.

What is the service desk?

As stated in the 2011 ITIL glossary; the service desk is “the single point of contact between the service provider and the users. A typical service desk manages incidents and service requests. Moreover, handles communication with the users.”. Basically, the service desk was an evolution of the help desk. It was born out of the ITIL framework, and based on the underlying concept of “managing IT as a service.”

A service desk usually includes, but is not limited to, a set of help desk features. For instance: a traditional ticketing system and self-service options. It can also include a range of additional modules that are aimed at solving other issues. These aren’t directly customer-related; incident management, problem management, change management, release management, knowledge management, asset/configuration management, employee management, and more. These are designed to improve the organization’s internal operations and management, as well as facilitate company growth.

Help desk vs Service desk: What’s the difference?

While service desks and help desks share some similar features, they do have a number of distinct differences:

help desk vs service desk

Help desks are user-centric / Service desks are business-centric

The primary function of a help desk is to handle incidents and service requests. Help desks aim to resolve customer issues as quickly as possible, minimizing user wait time, ideally the first time customer contacts the company. Efficient request handling is at the core of help desk activities for many organizations. Therefore, the help desk is concerned with end-user functionality.

On the other hand, the service desk focuses on the needs of a business rather than the user’s needs/requests. Unlike simply responding to incidents and fulfilling requests; a service desk reviews the overall IT and business processes within an organization with a goal of continual improvement. Thus, service desks focus on business goals and best practice processes.

Help desk software Service desk software
The help desk generally includes a ticket management system and self-service capabilities.The service desk includes modules for the incident, problem, change, knowledge, and asset management.
The help desk is tactical and reactive.The service desk is strategic and proactive.
The help desk focuses on solving the problems of end-users.The service desk focuses on long-term service strategy.
The help desk operates on a break-fix approach.The service desk operates on a holistic approach that is aligned with business goals.
The help desk can often be run with minimal staff.The service desk usually requires more human resources.

Help desks are a subset of service desks

The biggest difference between the help desk vs service desk is that the help desk can literally be considered a subset of the service desk due to the tool’s limited scope and capabilities.

The service desk offers a broader range and more complex services. This is in addition to ticket management and the integration of business processes into the service management infrastructure. Most of the service desk software systems on the market can be used as a help desk. However, it does not apply the other way around. Many organizations incorporate the help desk as a part of their service desk.

Help desks are stand-alone solutions, service desks are integrated

A help desk is a stand-alone solution performing tasks related to ticket management and offering self-service functionality. A service desk is a more complex system with a full range of IT management capabilities. It is integrated with other IT service management processes and is capable of providing advanced services. For example, change management, release management, asset management, CMDB management, and more.

Help desks are reactive, service desks are more proactive

Help desks aim to meet the immediate needs of end-users. In addition, they are predominantly configured as break-fix solutions. So, if something goes wrong, a user logs a ticket to fix the issue. It means that help desks are reactive in nature. Although service desks perform certain reactive tasks as well; their major function is to proactively ensure that IT operations run smoothly.

Help desk or Service desk: Which one do you need?

If we look at the help desk vs service desk; we will see that one is generally for internal business improvements. The other one is for customer care. In this way, the service desk and help desk can, and they very often do co-exist in a single organization. Even when they basically perform different functions.

Using either one or both depends on the business type and size, complexity and maturity of internal processes, as well as the needs of a business and its customers. If a company doesn’t require an integrated IT service, they may opt for a help desk instead of the service desk. While companies looking to provide more structured IT support typically need a service desk.

Definitions aside, the right customer service tool, whether it’s a help desk or a service desk, should be flexible enough to adapt to your particular business requirements and enable you to provide high-quality service to your customers. 

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