Wondering about a service desk vs a help desk solution, and not sure what the difference is? We’re here for you! This article will dive into the background of both terms, what the differences could be, and which one suits your needs as an IT business or department. Let us be at your service (or help)!


In the realm of IT support, both help desks and service desks play crucial roles, yet they exhibit differences in their focus and scope.


Help desks are primarily dedicated to providing technical assistance to end-users or customers, adeptly addressing specific technical issues and troubleshooting tasks. On the other hand, service desks offer a more comprehensive spectrum of support, encompassing not just technical problems but also catering to diverse service-related inquiries.


These may include handling requests for information, assisting with non-technical matters, and more. In essence, a service desk expands upon the functions of a help desk, extending support to both internal employees and external customers, while efficiently managing a broader array of issues.


Where did the terms service desk and help desk originate?


Back in the 1980’s, when IT support was still in its infancy, the term help desk was usually reserved for supporting IT teams with technical issues. In contrast, a service desk was more focused on providing help to the end users themselves, troubleshooting errors or completing tasks outside of crisis mode.


Today, the terms service desk and help desk are often usually used interchangeably to describe IT support services, but generally speaking a help desk will be a subsection of the service desk, and more focused on fixing errors than handling service requests.


Examples of common help desk requests could be:


  • My machines are running slow, why?
  • We can’t get onto the internet, can you help?
  • Our environment is showing unusual behavior – what’s the issue?
  • We’re under cyberattack – what do we do?


In contrast, a service desk will handle requests such as:


  • What’s the best way to onboard new members of staff?
  • How do I set up these printers/routers/servers?
  • Should we switch to cloud services for this department?
  • Are we secure against the latest cybersecurity threats?


Service Desk or Help Desk – What should I offer?


The chances are that you need to offer both help desk and service desk capabilities to your end users, whether you work in corporate IT for an enterprise or whether you have multiple IT clients as a Managed Service Provider. This is why the terms have become synonymous with the idea of IT support over the years. IT users need preventive support and consultancy, and they also need reactive help when something goes wrong.


The interesting thing is, the more of the “service desk” style support you offer, the less you’ll probably find yourself troubleshooting “help desk” items. This can also be thought of as managed services (service desk) vs break/fix (help desk).


An example of how help desk vs service desk works in practice


Let’s take a cybersecurity situation as an example. If you don’t offer service desk style proactive consultancy and support over cybersecurity best practices, it’s much more likely that your client will be hit by an attack. This could be anything from a data leakage incident to a ransomware attack, or a phishing scam. This will have your team rushing in crisis mode to fix what they can after the fact.
For the client, this is a terrible situation to be in, and makes it unlikely they will be able to restore data, or limit the damage. For your business, you can’t predict the event ahead of time, leading to a spike in requirements which adds cost and time investment at the spur of the moment.


In contrast, if you perform a cybersecurity review when you onboard the new client, completing traditional service desk tasks such as implementing robust backup capabilities, adding antivirus and antimalware software, and perhaps more intensive security processes such as network segmentation, patch management or least privilege, you’re not only less likely to suffer the attack, but you’re also in the best position possible in case a breach does occur.


When the help desk request comes in, you already understand the environment, you’veå limited the risk, and you have backups and solutions in place to ensure the damage isn’t too great to business continuity. This gives you more control to plan ahead as a business, and it also presents you as a valued asset to the customer or your organization, showing that you’re prepared for the situation rather than flailing in the face of disaster.


Incorporating help desk and service desk capabilities in your IT service


Of course, there will always be crisis moments, and you can’t prepare for everything ahead of time. There’s no such thing as a service desk solution that doesn’t come with those impromptu help desk requests. Printers will jam, networks will go down, pandemics will appear overnight and send your entire workforce home for months at a time.


Your goal as an IT services provider is to limit the impact of crises by having processes in place ahead of time to handle one-off incidents alongside more common ongoing needs. Your service desk/help desk solution should be able to:


Provide a single point of contact: Your colleagues or customers need a single place where anyone can get the help they need, including emails or tickets, so they can find all the answers in one place.

Track across teams: If more than one department or user is having an issue, there should be visibility into this problem. This also goes for tracking of historical events, which could shine a light into the root cause.


Ensure adherence with SLA: Each customer will have a Service Level Agreement for response and resolution. Your help desk should show that the SLA is being met, and provide visibility into compliance for the customer.


Offer self-service: Often a Knowledge Base or a FAQ can provide the first-level response that a user needs. A dynamic or regularly updated self-serve portal is a must-have.


Include smart routing: Not all technicians are the right fit for all tickets. Atera offers smart AI-based ticket routing and allocation to get issues dealt with faster and ensure the request is automatically given to the right member of staff.

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