Help Desks vs. Service Desks: What’s the Difference?

When you have a technology issue at work, who do you go to? Does your company have a designated team within the IT department if your computer suddenly stops working?

At most companies, an employee goes to a help desk or a service desk to get these issues solved. However, these terms are often used interchangeably and refer to different things. In fact, some companies don’t even call them help desks or service desks, but instead refer to them as care centers, technical support, and more.

Both helps desks and service desks are often highlighted by high turnover—sometimes because of promotions and new opportunities, but other times because of poor organization, structure, and clarity. In any case, though, organizations should have a tiered system dedicated to troubleshooting and fixing IT issues for stakeholders. There should be common threads of communications through both of these tiers, as well.

Let’s talk about those first two levels: helps desks (level one) and services desks (level two).

What’s a Help Desk?

A help desk at a company is a team responsible for providing technical support and assistance to employees or customers who experience problems with:

  • Computer hardware
  • Software
  • Technology-related issues that are often a break-fix type of issue (ITIL refers to this as incident management)

They’re often the first line of defense for troubleshooting and problem resolution, typically through phone, email, or a ticketing system.

The help desk team is responsible for identifying and resolving technical issues, answering questions, and providing guidance to users. They may also assist with setting up and configuring new devices or software, providing training and resources to users, and performing routine maintenance and updates to systems.

A company’s help desk plays an important role in ensuring that employees or customers can use technology efficiently and effectively, and that technical issues are resolved in a timely manner so stakeholders can return to their productive selves.

Common responsibilities of a help desk

On a day-to-day basis, the common responsibilities for a help desk and its employees are to:

  • Respond to technical support requests from employees and other stakeholders
  • Troubleshoot issues with software, hardware, and other technology
  • Track these issues and document them
  • Train employees on basic troubleshooting and problem solving with guides and tutorials
  • Monitor systems and make sure they are currently up-to-date and working
  • Communicate with stakeholders any system-wide issues or common problems with technology

Another core responsibility is to escalate issues when they’re too complex or difficult to handle. These escalations usually go to the service desk.

What is a Service Desk?

Service desks are the next step up for troubleshooting issues after the help desk. Whereas help desks are typically more reactive to problems, service desks try to add in a layer or proactiveness to their strategies as well.

On top of managing escalations that come from help desks, day-to-day responsibilities for a service desk include:

  • Complex/large-scale issues affecting the business: The service desk helps solve larger requests from customers and users. Whereas a help desk could help a single laptop connect to the internet, the service desk will help solve problems if an entire floor or office can’t access the internet.
  • Managing change in IT systems: The service desk also is tasked with changing entire systems if need be. For instance, issues with implementing two-factor authentication across the organization may come to the service desk if there’s an issue with certain devices.
  • Incident management: How does a help desk or service desk respond to issues? What are the processes for what issues? The service desk helps set up how these kinds of processes work across the organization.
  • Information management: Where are these tickets, processes, trainings, and more stored? Where can employees access needed troubleshooting guides? The service desk also functions as an information management arm for your business.

Service desks often oversee the entire delivery of the performance of technologies, products, and systems within a company, too. They make sure that issues and problems are solved as efficiently as possible across the organization, and they make sure any changes to processes are made and communicated.

Tips for Building Help Desk & Service Desk Teams

Whether you are deploying a help desk, service desk, or both, these teams often see high turnover. Average turnover is 40%! That means for every 10 employees hired to one of these teams, just six are still in that role or on the team a year later.

While this is somewhat natural given help desks are often entry-level, and both departments see lots of upward mobility, there are some small steps you can take to try and improve retention and reduce turnover. These include:

  • Hire right: This may sound obvious, but hiring the right people for the role helps you. Some qualities of a good help desk candidate include proactivity, empathy, and a desire to work in the IT field.
  • Offer upskilling opportunities: If an employee wants to learn a new skill, help them! Learning new skills and the opportunity to grow in a career are vital for retention. There are endless opportunities for these with help and service desks.
  • Acknowledge the work of your employees: Recognition—verbal and tangible—goes a long way. Highlighting the work of individuals and teams and detailing how their efforts have positively affected business can help employees feel and know what they’re doing is important to the business’ overall goals.
  • Constantly engage: Your employees have the hands-on experience with how processes are affecting the business. If you’re consistently engaging with them, you’ll potentially find new and better ways to operate help and service desks. On the other side of the coin, management should communicate to employees the “why” of what they’re doing—not just the “what.”

Help Desk or Service Desk: Which One Do You Need?

Help desks and service desks are crucial to a company’s operations. They’re the first couple lines of defense for IT issues throughout the organization, and they help business run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Backed by the second-largest IT staffing firm in the United States, Evergreen can help your business grow forward by building and managing entire IT service management processes. Let us know your needs below!