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Help Desk vs. Service Desk: What Are the Differences?

by Jelisaveta Sapardic·Updated
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Many businesses use the terms “help desk” and “service desk” interchangeably, but there are some key differences between the two. 

So, what’s the main help desk vs. service desk contrast?

While a help desk has a more limited scope focused on troubleshooting issues, the service desk adopts an all-encompassing approach across the entire customer service lifecycle. 

But that’s not all.

Stay tuned as we explain the core functions and discover the main benefits of each. Also, we’ll discuss when to implement a help desk vs. service desk based on your business needs and IT maturity level.

In this article:

Use a powerful help desk system and deliver outstanding support

Learn more about Tidio Helpdesk

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Let’s cut straight to the chase—

What is the difference between help desk and service desk?

Both systems involve providing technical support to users. And while the two terms may sound identical at first, there are some traits that can help you distinguish one from the other.

Here is a comparison table of the main differences between an IT help desk vs. IT service desk:

ScopeTroubleshooting issuesFull scope of IT services
ApproachReactive—responding to issues when they ariseProactive—long-term, preventing the problems before they occur
FocusQuick-fix solutions to end-usersStrategic, company-wide processes
AutomationLess automation, more manual workMore automation for repetitive inquiries
MetricsBasic metricsAdvanced metrics
ToolsBasic ticketing systemMore advanced customer service software
StaffingGeneral, front-line support agentsTrained and professional ITIL staff
BudgetLower costsHigher costs

Now, let’s have a look at a brief summary of each of the points.

  • Scope—help desk is focused on troubleshooting or incident management (i.e. someone reporting a blank screen), while a service desk covers the broad lifecycle of IT processes, including problem management (i.e. employees getting error messages or experiencing storage issues), as well as information and service requests
  • Approach—help desk takes a more reactive approach, tending to current issues in an ad-hoc manner, while service desk is more proactive in nature, prioritizing long-term solutions and preventing future issues 
  • Focus—a help desk offers quick-fix solutions to end-users (i.e. error solved after safe mode system reboot), whereas a service desk is more strategic and offers solutions that align with entire business goals (e.g. migrating the database to cloud-based service)
  • Automation—help desk relies on manual work the most (e.g. helping a client go step-by-step through the troubleshooting process), while service desk utilizes customer service automation more (i.e. automated responses for most common inquiries) 
  • Customer service metrics—help desk tracks basic metrics like ticket volume and resolution time, while service desk tracks comprehensive KPIs including first call resolution and SLA (service level agreement) breach rate
  • Tools—help desk uses a basic ticketing system like Tidio, while service desk uses advanced customer service software like Zendesk
  • Staffing—service desk requires trained ITIL staff, whereas help desk requires general tech support agents
  • Budget—help desk has lower costs, while service desk requires higher investment

It could also be said that a help desk offers help to users, whereas a service desk provides full-blown IT service to customers.

Read more: Learn all you need to know about Tidio’s ticketing system and how you can set it up for the most efficient customer query management.

Okay, let’s look at a more in-depth definition—

What is a help desk?

A help desk is a resource provided by a company to its users. Through it, customers can get technical support and assistance for any issues they may encounter.

Some key characteristics of a help desk include offering contact for users to get tech support via phone, email, ticketing systems, self-service portals, etc. Technical support agents are usually the ones who troubleshoot issues and offer resolutions to users.

Tidio is a good example of a tool that offers a help desk system:

Typically, help desk software and/or ticket-tracking systems are used to manage specific user queries and issues. When it comes to solving common problems, knowledge bases and documentation are usually built to provide self-service to customers. 

As for more complex problems, they’re further escalated to specialized support teams like network admins, software developers, etc.

So, to sum up, a help desk serves as the first point of contact for end-users to get quick technical assistance.


What is a service desk?

A service desk is an advanced version of a help desk that offers a full scope of services to customers and escalates complex IT issues to specialized technical support teams. It helps teams provide complete technical guidance to users and organizations regarding any products or services. These can include any kind of technology used by a user or employee, be it laptops, apps, or even servers. 

Jira Service Management is a great example of a service desk tool:

Typically, a service desk provides a single point of contact for users to report issues while following ITIL (information technology infrastructure library) practices. These include incident, problem, and configuration management. 

In addition, service desk uses more advanced ITSM (IT service management) tools to automate processes such as ticket routing, knowledge management, and reporting. As such, it’s operated by IT service management professionals.

So, it’s safe to say that a service desk focuses on more complex IT service management and delivery instead of just solving immediate problems. By contrast, a helpdesk provides basic break-fix technical support.

That being said, there are still organizations that view service and help desks as one and the same and use the two terms interchangeably. And this can make the distinction between the two potentially more confusing.

So, try looking at it this way—

A service desk evolves from a help desk, but it incorporates a wider scope of ITSM practices in comparison.

Speaking of, it’s also important to clarify the following—

What is an IT service management (ITSM)?

IT service management (ITSM) is simply an approach that organizations use to operate and deliver IT services to customers. ITSM promotes the idea of delivering IT like a service, with a strong emphasis on business processes, clients, and measurement.

The essential processes of ITSM include:

  • Incident management 
  • Problem management
  • Change management
  • IT asset management
  • Request fulfillment

Typically, companies that use service desk engage in many of these ITSM activities.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at how help desks and service desks can benefit your business.

The benefits of service desks and help desks

Even though help desks and service desks have their differences, they offer similar advantages for your business. These include improved satisfaction, faster issue resolution, centralized support, and more. 

Let’s take a look at each one:

Improved satisfaction

Having a dedicated service desk or help desk enables users to get assistance quickly when facing a technical issue. Instead of struggling alone, they can simply call or log a ticket to get in touch with the support agent and resolve their problems promptly. This saves users time and reduces frustration, improving overall customer satisfaction. In fact, research shows that using a help center can increase the client satisfaction rate by 83%

Faster issue resolution

Service desks implement practices like ITIL for streamlined incident, problem, and change management workflows. Meanwhile, help desks leverage the ticket tracking system to route issues to the right support agents. This enables queries to be diagnosed and resolved faster before they can seriously impact users. Given that as many as 80% of customers say they want quick responses from the company, this benefit shouldn’t be overlooked.

Read more: Find out how Shockbyte, a gamer server provider, succeeded in slashing response times using Tidio.

Centralized support

Whether it’s a help desk ticketing portal or service desk software, teams have one place to go to handle requests. This eliminates confusion and makes it easy to track the status of issues. Plus, having a centralized system also promotes collaboration between agents and IT teams which has the potential to boost their productivity.

Cost reduction 

Automating mundane tasks leads to less waiting times and faster solving of issues. Combined with available self-service options that come with help desks and service desk solutions, this can reduce the support ticket volume and slash operating costs significantly. The average cost per ticket in IT is $22, so for a company that handles thousands of support tickets yearly, enabling automation can lead to major savings!

Boost client satisfaction with a help desk solution

Learn more about Tidio Helpdesk

Whether you end up using help desk or service desk software, now you know what benefits you can expect.

But how to know which option is the best for you?

Help desk or service desk: which one to choose?

So, taking into account all we said above, how do you know which solution to pick for your specific needs?

Here are some guidelines on whether your company should implement an IT help desk vs. service desk.

You should go for help desk if you:

  • need a basic system to track IT tickets and provide first-level tech support
  • own a small to medium-sized business with limited IT infrastructure and staff
  • need a good entry point for early-stage IT service management
  • have basic user support needs but don’t have much investment

You should choose service desk if:

  • your IT environment and user base scales significantly in size and complexity
  • strategic management and improvement of IT services becomes crucial
  • you need to enable mature IT service management processes and practices
  • help desk is clogged up with too many routine break/fix requests

Read more: Check out the best open source help desk tools on the web.

Moving on—

What are the essential features of help desk and service desk tools? Moreover, make sure to check out the best help desk practices you can use for your business.

Help desk and service desk tools: key features

The ideal software solution should always contain functionalities that match your organization’s specific needs. 

Here are some of the essential features to consider when evaluating your options:

  • Ticket management—these will allow you to easily create, assign, track and resolve support tickets
  • AI chatbots—having AI customer service features and chatbot technology can automate your support processes and provide quick responses to the FAQs
  • Knowledge base—as a repository of solutions to common issues, it can include anything from user guides, commonly asked questions, and knowledge base articles
  • Reporting and analytics—performance and productivity reports to keep track of your most important help desk metrics
  • Automation—these include features like ticket routing, resolution, and escalation
  • Collaboration tools—shared inbox with internal messages, valuable for agents to communicate with ease and share knowledge

Read more: Check out some of the vital chat handling skills your agents need to deliver excellent customer service.


Aside from the core features, what else should you keep in mind when picking the best help tools in this category?

How to choose the best help desk and service desk tools

Selecting the right help desk or service desk system is crucial for enabling quick, efficient issue resolution and providing excellent IT support. 

Here are some of the core practices you can implement when finding the best option for your business:

Sign up for free trials

Some of the leading support tools offer free trials. You should take advantage of them to test-drive the user interface, workflows, as well as reporting features. Then you can assess the overall ease of use and performance before finally deciding on the tool. Remember—the hands-on experience is invaluable.

Engage with customer support

Ensure that you evaluate the customer support of each provider during the trial period. You can submit tickets, interact with representatives, and evaluate response times. This will reveal their ability to provide ongoing post-purchase support. Also, it might be a good idea to read ratings and reviews to see what other users have to say about the support team.

Examine pricing and scalability

Carefully review the pricing models and total cost of ownership for each tool. This will ensure that the solution can scale up aligned with your expected business growth. In short, you should avoid tools you’ll likely outgrow in the near future.

Check for integration capabilities

It’s essential to confirm that the tool you select works well with other core platforms you’re using. In short, it needs to integrate well with your broader IT ecosystem. So, you should thoroughly examine all the available integration options like APIs, pre-built connectors, etc. 

Get user feedback during trials

Finally, be sure to involve your help desk staff and end-users actively during the duration of the trial. Get their direct feedback on usability and the overall customer experience. Then, take these perspectives into account when making your final decision. After all, they’ll be using these tools regularly, so their opinion matters a great deal.

Read more: Learn all about the importance of collecting customer feedback and how to manage it professionally.

Service desk vs. help desk: key takeaway

So, let’s sum up:

  • A help desk focuses on resolving technical issues and providing quick break-fix support when users face problems. It troubleshoots issues via tickets, phone, email, etc.
  • A service desk takes a more proactive approach across the full IT service lifecycle including incident, problem, change, and service request management. It follows ITSM best practices and utilizes advanced tools to improve service quality. 
  • Another clear distinction is that a help desk requires general tech support agents, while a service desk needs ITSM-trained professionals.
  • In general, a help desk can be considered a subset of the service desk. Businesses tend to switch from help desks to service desks as their IT infrastructure and user base grows larger and more complex. 

That being said, which system type you’ll go for depends on your business goals, size, and other IT-specific requirements. So, make sure to choose the right service provider accordingly.

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Jelisaveta Sapardic
Jelisaveta Sapardic

Tidio’s Content Writer with a passion for languages. As an avid learner interested in all things tech, Jelisaveta always strives to share her knowledge with others and help people and businesses reach their goals.

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