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December 10, 2015

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

Vernon Southmayd
Senior Product Manager & Evangelist
ConnectWise, Inc.
Service Desk vs Help Desk

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 uncomplicate 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. (Check out this previous post to learn more.)

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.

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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:

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

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.

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Vernon Southmayd Senior Product Manager & Evangelist
ConnectWise, Inc.

As a former luger, where races are measured to the thousandth of a second, Vernon learned the importance of finding the most repeatable, efficient way to do things.


2 thoughts on “Service Desk vs. Help Desk: What’s the Difference?

  1. Zinergy says:

    I have read your whole blog and also said thanks to give us the vital information.I will also keep your information in my mind for future as well. If any one wants to get more information about help desk or service desk you can visit zinergy.com

  2. Ryan says:

    Hi Vernon
    Thanks for this informative article. Although the terms Service Desk and Help Desk are often used interchangeably, they address two distinct areas of responsibility. The Help Desk is reactionary and user focussed, while the Service Desk is a customer focused business tool with an inward as well as outward focus. I have written about this subject on my blog at http://www.onsoft.co.za

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How to Make IT Customers Happy

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