Service Desk vs. Help Desk

Deciding whether your business needs service desk or help desk services can be a challenging one. Some people use these two terms interchangeably, which further complicates the process. 

Many businesses need both types of services. Help desk services work for solving specific problems, while service desk services provide an umbrella for overseeing support services. However, the process of deploying these support services – and any related support software – depends on your organization’s size and tech requirements.

The Top-Rated Help Desk Software in Service Desk vs. Help Desk

Help desk software is a key option to have on hand to help your team solve tech-related problems and to provide trusted customer service. We studied the best help desk software options to give you a head start on finding the perfect option for your needs.

You can read our full reviews of each help desk software product here.

What Is Service Desk vs. Help Desk?

The differences between service desk and help desk are subtle, but they are important to understand.

The service desk manages requests for service, while providing a long-term, overall strategy for the business regarding its needs for technical support and customer support.

The help desk is a segment of the service desk system, providing the ability to resolve issues efficiently. Help desk support also involves managing the self-service options for end users.

The Basics of Service Desk vs. Help Desk

Screenshot of Freshdesk customer tickets dashboard

Choosing between service desk and help desk solutions involves investigating the strengths they each offer and then applying them to your business’s needs.

Short Term vs. Long Term

Help desk solutions focus on solving short-term problems, while service desk solutions help with determining the best long-term solutions that your service team can deliver.

Think of a help desk solution as one that focuses on tasks. It deals with fixing specific problems that employees or customers may be having. Help desks focus on immediacy.

Service desks, meanwhile, tend to focus on creating solutions that help the business in the long term. Rather than dealing only with day-to-day tasks related to problem-solving, the service desk helps the team create a plan for solving issues. 

A service desk may allow the support team to serve as a liaison between the IT department and the customer or employee with the problem.

The support team may use the service desk to create a plan for dealing with certain types of support issues. Additionally, the service desk solution yields analytics that help the team figure out a long-term plan for providing services, including which services it may be able to automate.

Resources Available

Service desks nearly always have components of help desks included with them, which makes service desks more of an all-in-one solution. With that in mind, it’s fair to ask: Why would someone choose a help desk solution alone? 

Because of the multitude of features found with service desk solutions, they generate additional complexity versus help desks. Service desks also involve creating plans and studying analytics to come up with the proper solutions. 

These are extremely helpful features, but they require significant resources to allow your business to make the most of them. 

A smaller business or a larger business with a small support team likely will struggle to successfully use a service desk. Such a business then will end up wasting money on features it can’t use. The small service team deploying a service desk may find itself sidetracked with the service desk’s planning features, slowing the response time on resolving help desk tickets. 

If you believe you need the long-term options and detailed analytics found with service desk solutions, you may need to expand your support team to be certain you have the proper resources available.

Service Desk and Help Desk Working Together

From the perspective of the customer or employee who is making a request for IT help, it should not matter if you are deploying a help desk or service desk solution. The end user should submit a request and eventually see a solution to the problem. It should be a smooth experience for the end user.

However, from the perspective of your support team, having two different solutions may help you solve problems more efficiently. Your help desk team can focus on delivering solutions to day-to-day problems for the end users. Your service desk team can serve as a liaison for highly complex problems and can work to develop long-term service solutions for the company.

Deploying both help desk and service desk solutions typically works better for larger companies. You need a significant amount of resources available in your support team to be able to offer both solutions.

Examples of Help Desk Requests

Determining whether you should deploy a help desk solution, a service desk solution, or both can be easier if you understand some common requests that require a help desk solution.

  • Lost files: When employees lose files or inadvertently delete files, help desk team members can determine if backup copies of the file exist or if the file is retrievable.
  • Lost password: Log-in problems for employees are common issues for a help desk team. The support team can run through multiple troubleshooting solutions with the employee to try to recover the password. The support team also may be able to reset the password.
  • Slow performance: If an employee or client who is logging into your network is experiencing slow performance, this may result in a service request. Support team members on the help desk need to make sure the network is performing properly and that a virus is not the cause of the reduced performance.
  • Unable to print: Although employees don’t print as many documents as they once did, printing problems still generate a large number of requests to the help desk. Support team members need to make sure the printer’s drivers are up to date, the printer has a network connection, and the printer hardware is up and running.

Examples of Service Desk Requests

If your business needs to be able to develop an overall plan for handling service requests, a service desk is the answer. At your business, you may notice some of these common requests for service desk help.

  • Tracking analytics: Service desk software solutions should be able to log all service requests and sort them, providing key information. Support team members then can spot trends and make quick adjustments to enhance the responsiveness of the team accordingly.
  • Automating processes: A key role of the service desk is to figure out which types of help requests from end users are candidates for automation. When end users are able to handle troubleshooting simple issues on their own, it frees up the support team for complex help tasks.
  • Improving processes: The service desk always has a focus on long-term issues related to tech support for employees and clients. By studying issues with a long-term focus, the support team on the service desk can make improvements to the processes. The team may even be able to anticipate problems, creating a higher level of efficiency.

5 Tools to Improve Service Desk vs. Help Desk Results

Screenshot of Freshdesk homepage

Dozens of software tools are available to provide the help desk and service desk solutions your business needs. Here are five of the best tools you can deploy.


Freshdesk is one of the best help desk software tools because of its scalability. It delivers a free tier for startups. As the business grows and as the support needs expand, Freshdesk has numerous pay service tiers that can continue to serve the businesses.

Additionally, Freshdesk makes the communications process extremely easy. Your support team can collaborate with clients and employees who need help, as well as with other support team members, all from one interface.

Zoho Desk

Zoho Desk is extremely easy to use. This means your support team is able to spend the majority of its time helping employees and customers, rather than wrestling with a difficult-to-use software package. 

Businesses of varying sizes can make use of Zoho Desk. It offers a free tier, as well as multiple pricing tiers, so it will grow with you as your business expands. Zoho Desk is a great choice for pairing with other communications tools you may be using, like Slack and Trello.


When you need help desk software specifically made for IT service management (ITSM), Freshservice is our favorite choice. It comes from the same company (Freshworks) that makes Freshdesk, but it focuses on ITSM.

When your employees need different types of IT help, based on the work they do, Freshservice ensures they all receive a similar level of attention and service. Freshservice has multiple automated features that save your service team time and effort. Multiple pricing tiers are available.

Zendesk Support

Those businesses that need a significant amount of customization from their help desk software will appreciate Zendesk Support. It has a wide range of features, so your support team can tailor the system to meet its needs. It also offers compatibility with multiple apps to deliver even more customization.

For smaller businesses, consider starting with the lowest-priced tier of Zendesk Support to avoid the need for deploying significant resources. You then could upgrade to a higher pricing tier if you need more features in the future.

Jira Service Desk

Larger companies that primarily need ITSM support for their own employees like the capabilities found in the Jira Service Desk software. It does offer support for external customers, but its top features help your support team give internal employees the best service. It includes the ability to incorporate multiple apps into the software so you can gain additional features.

Jira Service Desk has a free tier, so you can try out the software before you commit any money to it. It has additional features available in upper pricing tiers, so it can match your needs as your business grows. 

3 Tricks for Deploying Service Desk vs. Help Desk

Screenshot of Freshdesk user dashboard showing search results for the word "refund"

If you still aren’t quite sure whether a service desk or a help desk will give you better results, here are a few steps you can follow in making the decision.

Consider the Size of Your Company

If you are a smaller business, you probably don’t need the extensive capabilities found with service desk solutions. You may simply need to provide help for specific issues your employees and clients are experiencing. 

If you have a small team of support agents, chances are they can make efficient use of a help desk system. They won’t need the added expense or overhead that operating a service desk requires.

Larger companies may need the planning and management features found in a service desk solution. Because most service desk solutions have a help desk element in them, this combination works nicely for larger companies.

Meet Your Basic Needs

When trying to compare service desk versus help desk solutions and then trying to compare the tools within each category, it’s easy to lose sight of the most important factors. You may end up focusing on add-ons and extra features that sound great but that don’t meet your day-to-day needs all that well.

Start the process by making a list of the basic requirements you have for these solutions. These should not be “wants,” but the list should consist of the primary needs your support agents have.

After you identify the key features you need, you then can make a list of some extra items that would be nice to have. Make your comparisons and decisions based on the needs list first. Then use the wants list to help you make the final choice among a few close contenders.

Avoid Complexity

Having plenty of bells and whistles in your help desk or service desk solution may be tempting. However, you don’t want to add so many features and tracking options that the service solution becomes difficult to use.

After all, your support team wants to respond to problems quickly and efficiently. If the solution you select creates roadblocks to completing tasks efficiently, you will have a frustrated support team, as well as frustrated clients and employees.

Request a demo or a free trial period with any service software solution you are considering. Use this testing period to determine the usability of the package. 

If you need advanced tracking capabilities, but have concerns over whether your team can handle these options efficiently immediately, try easing into the new solution. Consider a package that allows you to start with only the basics. Then, after your support team becomes comfortable with the basics, selecting an expandable package allows you to add in other features gradually.

What to Do Next?

Improving the performance of your business can be as simple as managing customer support successfully. When taking steps to improve the tech support options for your employees and customers, service software is a great first step. 

Help desk ticketing software ensures that your customer requests do not fall through the cracks. But deploying help desk and service desk solutions together can lead to an even greater level of success. Think about the specific needs of your business in the area of support. Then seek a focused solution that gives you the help desk features you need or seek an all-in-one service desk package that provides multiple features.

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