Help Desk or Service Desk - Which is Right For Your Organization?

Help Desk or Service Desk

Traditionally speaking, IT support functionality is divided into three key tiers - IT help desk, IT service desk and IT service management. The theory is that a help desk is a basic solution that provides core ticketing functionality, a service desk offers slightly more advanced features like change management and an ITSM suite goes deeper into offering more mature IT service functions. These distinctions seem fairly clear on the surface, but they can get pretty muddled as the official designations from organizations like the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) tend be fairly broad and conceptual.

A blog post from Pink Elephant delves into the distinction between these different support solution models. While a Help Desk is a critical component when it comes to facilitating incident tickets, knowledge base articles and other IT support interactions, Service Desk "goes the extra mile" by representing the face of IT to end-users; playing a key role in fulfilling customer requirements.

Creating Cultural Borders Between Help Desks and Service Desks
From the customer perspective, most people outside of IT will continue to think of themselves as contacting the help desk regardless of how the organization chooses to define its support setup. As such, it is important to not necessarily focus too much on the word "service" and instead emphasize on what users think when they hear the term "help." This distinction points to the reality that most people will turn to support teams when they need help. For example, if something isn't working like it should, employees will call the help desk. If somebody doesn't have a clear understanding of how to use a new technology, they call the help desk, and so on.

In most cases, this culture of thinking of the support team as the place to go for help sticks with end-users even as organizations begin to deploy more mature technological solutions. Organizations that want to establish a true service desk setup need to go beyond investing in technology and ensure that they are working to change the culture around their solution. This means that transitioning to a full service desk hinges on going beyond just providing help for end users and working to provide a full-featured service solution that serves their needs from the point of implementation and beyond.

Transforming the organization to focus on service management means looking beyond just the technology itself. IT must be invested in emphasizing the overall customer experience. Instead of just trying to meet user needs more efficiently, the goal should be to provide a higher level of support excellence so that users will feel like they are coming to a customer service team that deeply understands their needs. This should be a step above the interactions users typically have with support teams that are used to handling more surface level issues. This is a clear cultural shift that spreads out to processes and technologies, and represents a key distinction between a help desk and a service desk.

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The Technical Difference Between a Help Desk and Service Desk
The cultural distinctions between a help desk and a service desk are useful, but they don't necessarily create a clear line between the two different support solution models. Understanding the difference between a help desk and a service desk from an end-user perspective is helpful, but you also need to understand the technical distinction.

An effective IT service desk will provide clear technical advantages over a help desk. In some cases, the difference is in scale - a service desk is generally able to handle a larger volume of users and a more diverse base of customers. However, the most prolific difference between a help desk and service desk comes in the form of more advanced modules like change and problem management. These modules are a part of most service desks, and a good IT service desk will create the foundation of process automation and optimization needed to handle advanced operational models.

The addition of solutions like change and problem management create a clear divide between a help desk and a service desk. Let's look at each of these solutions to see how they stand out:

  • Problem Management - The core principle of problem management is identifying the underlying issues that cause repeated incidents so that they can be resolved at the core level. This is a clear move beyond the help desk. On the help desk, incident management and ticketing solutions organize incidents so they can be resolved as efficiently as possible, but little is done to actually reduce the number of incidents the support team is facing. As such, the focus remains on helping users. Conversely, problem management lets support teams solve the underlying IT problems that create incidents, reducing the workload faced by support team members and giving them more time to focus on providing customer service.
  • Change Management - The idea of taking time to solve problems is exciting, but it can be overwhelming if IT teams are not given proper tools to make the changes associated with problem resolution. Change management tools give organizations the functionality they need to adjust the IT configuration efficiently. When you use change management to accelerate alterations to the IT configuration, you can ensure that you can quickly resolve underlying IT problems and create an optimal end-user experience.

In the end, this technical difference underlines the distinction between a help desk and a service desk. A help desk focuses on resolving incidents efficiently while a service desk emphasizes improving the IT configuration so the support team can provide meaningful service improvements.

Gaining Value From a Help Desk or Service Desk
A full service desk platform solution offers significant value that goes beyond what a help desk or simple ticketing solution can offer. However, not every organization will benefit from these solutions. Sticking with a help desk can be ideal for smaller organizations that want to handle incidents as efficiently as possible, but lack the complex IT architecture needed to benefit from a service desk. In many cases, the advanced modules like change and problem management won't offer significant benefits to organizations that have a minimal IT footprint. These smaller organizations will be better off starting with a simple, yet effective help desk solution. Conversely, organizations with a more complex and mature IT structure should consider implementing a robust service desk solution in order to avoid technical problems, save on cost and meet their end-user requirements.

Understanding these cultural and technical distinctions between a help desk and service desk can ensure that you make the right decision for your IT operations.

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