Help Desk vs. Service Desk: What is the Difference?

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Getting the right tools for a specific task is critical for successful business processes. When you choose a software solution for your company’s IT services, you will find articles referring to the help desk and service desk as the same thing. In contrast, other articles state those are entirely different things. Telling those two concepts apart can be very confusing.

In this article, we will have a look at various aspects of both the service desk and helpdesk to provide you with a detailed and comprehensive answer to the question: “What is the difference between the service desk and helpdesk?”.

Help Desk vs. Service Desk – A Visual Representation

Help desk vs Service desk: what’s the difference?

The most general and all-encompassing term that covers all the services an IT team provides to the end users is IT Service Management (ITSM). Here are the most critical processes covered by ITSM:

  • • IT asset management
  • • Problem management
  • • Incident management
  • • Service request management
  • • Change management
  • • Knowledge management

As you can see, some of these processes (e.g., change management or knowledge management) are not something one will expect from a typical service desk or IT support team. That’s because service desks and help desks only represent smaller pieces of ITSM and thus don’t have that broad scope of responsibilities.

Being an ITSM subdivision, a service desk is responsible for IT service delivery with some added functionality, i.a., asset management, self-service portal upkeeping, and reporting.

A help desk is the service desk sub-service with a prime focus on customer service request management.

What is a service desk?

According to ITIL’s definition, a service desk is: “The single point of contact between the service provider and the users. A typical service desk manages incidents and service requests and also handles communication with the users.”

Or, in more simple terms, a service desk is a contact center users call to get help from IT professionals. And the primary goal of a service desk is to deliver top-notch services fixing the issue or providing required maintenance as fast as possible to minimize possible downtime.

Among other ITSM activities, a typical service desk provides knowledge management, service request management, self-service, incident management, and reporting. On top of that, service desks significantly contribute to corporate change management and problem management processes.

Here are some of the functions an IT service desk carries out on a daily basis:

  • • Customer service request management (i.a., incident management);
  • • Maintaining and regularly updating the departmental knowledge base;
  • • Up-keeping and replenishing the self-service portal;
  • • Collecting key metrics on the help desk team performance and app efficiency;
  • • Contributing to all the main ITSM processes;
  • • Implementing automating solutions for the routine procedures;
  • • Ensuring compliance with service-level agreements;
  • • Providing users with a single point of contact for all IT-related matters;
  • • Proactively upgrade or modernize the software, equipment, and procedures.

What is a help desk?

According to Merriam-Webster’s definition, a help desk is “a department or person that provides assistance and information, usually for electronic or computer problems.” So, as you can see, the main difference from the service desk definition is the much smaller scope of functions. From all customer service covered by the service desk, the help desk’s focus is on fixing issues. Here you can find a list of the best remote help desk software.

Here are the main tasks of a help desk:

  • • Providing users with a SPOC for all IT-related matters;
  • • Monitoring software solution’s performance and fixing the upcoming issues;
  • • Implementing automating solutions for issue escalation, tracking, and notifications;
  • • Providing support services in compliance with SLAs;
  • • Contributing to all the main ITSM processes;

Service desk vs. help desk: What’s the difference?

Though we’ll be the first to admit that these definitions sound similar enough to cause a mix-up. To definitively clear up all the possible confusion, let’s have a better look at the differences between them:

Business-centric vs. user-centric

A service desk is business-centric because its primary task is to cater to the needs of a business as a whole and not individual users’ needs. Aiming for constant improvement, a service desk is always in search of new ways to improve the existing IT-related business processes.

Help desks are user-centric because they cater to individual users’ requests. The main goal of a help desk is to minimize downtime by quickly and efficiently addressing incoming requests from the end users. Ideally, a problem is resolved from the first try and with a minimum wait time.

Help desk

Service desk

Main features

Ticket management,


Incident management, change management, knowledge base, asset management.

Line of activity

Tactical and reactive.

Strategic and proactive.

Key focus

Solving issues for end-users.

Defining long-term service strategy.



Holistic, aligned with business goals.

Stuff requirements



Broad scope vs. narrow focus

Another key difference between the service desk and the help desk is that the help desk has a much smaller area of responsibility and is often viewed as the service desk subdivision.

In addition to ticket management, a service desk is responsible for the service management integration into the business infrastructure and carrying out many other advanced tasks. A service desk software solution can be used by your help desk, but a help desk app will not work for a service desk due to functional limitations.

Integrated vs. stand-alone

A service desk is an advanced multi-purpose system fully integrated with multiple IT-related business processes, i.a., asset management, change management, CMDB management, release management, etc.

A help desk is a stand-alone solution focused on processes directly linked to ticket management and self-service portal management.

Proactive vs. reactive

A service desk’s primary task is to proactively ensure the stable running of all IT-related processes. However, this does include dealing with upcoming issues.

A help desk is reactive as it mainly acts as a break-fix solution in response to tickets. Its primary task is to ensure meeting end-users immediate needs.

Choosing the Right Software Solution

Picking the right tools is an essential step to successful business operations. A complicated and expensive service desk solution may be overkill for some companies that won’t have use of half the advanced functionality. So here is a helpful checklist of the most critical factors you need to consider while choosing an IT support solution:

  • Consider your business’s scale: For large corporations with a strategic approach to IT services, a simple help desk tool will not be enough. For a smaller company, investing in a service desk solution means overpaying for a whole array of unnecessary services.

  • Focus on the must-have features: Make sure that the software solution of your choice has all the functionality you need in a main toolset or add-ons. But keep it as simple as possible as supernumerary features tend to confuse a user and decrease performance.

  • Usability is a basic necessity: Please remember that your chosen software will be your IT team’s primary tool in their daily operation. An intricate solution with an unintuitive interface will inevitably negatively affect overall performance.

  • Opt for the best vendor support: Do not underestimate the importance of good vendor support and regular updates. Software tools that can timely adapt to your growing business requirements prove to be the most beneficial over the long run.

  • Look into your company’s needs: Check if your IT team thoroughly understands the difference between help desk vs. service desk approaches. Make a joint decision on the tool you need from a business perspective based on your company’s needs.