Help Desk vs. Service Desk: Do the Differences Matter?

08/29/2019 by: The SunView Team

itsm-softwareHere’s a question that we come across all the time: is there actually a difference between a service desk and a help desk? Many people use the terms interchangeably, which adds to the confusion. Does it really matter, though? 

As a matter of fact, the differences do matter – help desks and service desks have different functions within organizations. Read on to learn the similarities and the disparities between service desks and help desks, as well as how you can make both of them run better.

What Does a Help Desk Do?

According to PC Magazine, a help desk is defined as "software that provides the means to login problems and tracks them until solved. It also provides the management information regarding support activities.” The main goal of the help desk is to quickly resolve incidents and meet the immediate needs of end users as efficiently as possible. 

The foundations of the help desk can be traced back to the 1980s. Help desks were created to solve, as you’ve probably guessed, IT issues. The help desk of yore wasn’t particularly customer-centric, with ITSM expert Stephen Mann calling it a “break-fix” model. “With the old help desk, you used to call an 800-number and hopefully someone would call back in two weeks, if you were lucky," he added.” 

“As help desks work to align their spending with business growth, ticket volumes have increased by 54% for desktop support teams”

Although technology has changed over the years, the name has stuck. Users still call it a “help desk” because it’s a place that they go to get help with IT issues. 

7 Reasons Why AI Will Change Everything on the Service Desk - offer

Can You Make a Help Desk More Efficient? 

One of the biggest complaints about help desks is that they’re not very helpful. It can take over 24 hours for help desk staff to respond to a single ticket. Why is that? 

Many help desks get bogged down with tickets that aren’t crucial to the functioning of the organization, yet still require a response so that users can move forward with their work. The password reset is an excellent example; researchers estimate that this type of ticket makes up as much as 50% of all help desk tickets. 

“A 2015 HDI survey says that 23% of organizations call their support centers a ‘help desk’”

A help desk doesn’t have to be inefficient, though. ITSM tools can make help desks operate optimally. How so? 

Automated ITSM tools can create a knowledge base for users that they can access without the need for help desk personnel’s involvement. We’ll use an example of a printer jam, another common ticket. Instead of calling or emailing the help desk, a user would navigate to a self-service portal or open a chatbot window. He or she would type in the question, and in moments, the knowledge base would provide an answer. 

“A password reset tool can reduce help desk calls by as much as 40%” 

The ability for users to find their own answers saves time, money, and effort. When the help desk doesn’t have to deal with these types of tickets, staff can focus on tasks that move the company forward, such as monitoring security. 

What Does a Service Desk Do?

A service desk is a communications center that acts as a single point of contact between an organization and its employees. In some cases, the service desk also extends its capabilities to customers and business partners. 

Service desks handle incidents as well as service requests. Incidents are events which disrupt IT services, while service requests refer to help with a routine task (such as the aforementioned password reset). In addition, service desks have also been tasked with change management, release management, and configuration-related activities. 

Thirty-eight percent of service desks have a strategy, according to research from the Service Desk Institute”

The service desk evolved from the help desk over time as the need for service management arose. While the 1980s was the era in which the help desk was born, that decade also marked the creation of ITIL, the ITSM framework that standardized the delivery of IT services. In recent years, ITIL has emphasized aligning IT with business outcomes.  

Can You Make a Service Desk More Efficient? 

Service desks can also be plagued by the problem of inefficiency. Because they encompass some of the same functions as a help desk, users also approach service desks for issues such as password resets, printer jams, and other minor issues that are time-consuming for service desk staff, yet present nearly insurmountable obstacles to end-users. 

However, that doesn’t mean that a service desk can’t become more efficient. Again, ITSM solutions are the answer. As mentioned earlier, automated ITSM tools offer self-service capabilities to end-users to help them solve some of their own problems (and free up time for service desk personnel). 

“The average percentage of total contacts for US-sourced service desks is 9.7%, according to MetricNet” 

What can ITSM tools do for issues that go beyond the help desk and venture into service desk territory? There are plenty of applications. For example, change management is a significant issue in organizations, and it’s a process with many moving parts. ITSM solutions help companies bring all of those moving parts under one umbrella, while automating many of the previously manual tasks that were time-consuming and labor-intensive.

ITSM tools can also automate the monitoring process. This is especially crucial in an IT environment with vast infrastructures. The right ITSM solution is built for multiple roles within a service desk hierarchy, so systems administrators, security analysts, DevOps managers, and service desk staff can all work efficiently and effectively.

“According to ITSM experts, 80% of the value from performance measurement comes from seven metrics” 

Does it matter whether you run a service desk or a help desk? Yes, it does, because they play different roles. It also matters because you want to use the right tools to ensure that they operate efficiently and that they deliver the greatest value to your organization.

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