What is the difference between a Help Desk and a Service Desk?

What is the difference between a Help Desk and a Service Desk?

What is the difference between a Help Desk and a Service Desk?

By Kate Hamblin, IT Management Consultant

“What’s the difference between a Help Desk and a Service Desk?” A question I frequently get asked on training courses.

The Oxford English Dictionary states:

Help – make it easier or possible for (someone) to do something by offering them one’s services or resources; improve (a situation or problem); be of benefit to

Service – the action of helping or doing work for someone

While they are both relevant, they don’t really help in distinguishing the 2 different types of desks.  So based on my experience, I believe the following:

  • A Help Desk is designed to get a user back on their feet, done and dusted, next!  Log and Flog, Catch and Dispatch ring any bells?
  • A Service Desk goes the extra mile (you can’t get away from clichés in this business) and provides the user with the warm and fuzzy feeling during the end of the call. Well that’s the intention anyway.

If we think about the evolution of the Help Desk to a Service Desk (even though many organisations still have Help Desks that are really Service Desks and vice versa), Help Desks were more common when ITIL V1 was introduced and Incident Management didn’t even exists as a process, never mind Request fulfilment. As businesses started to demand more from IT and to enable IT to start providing a more structured, coherent IT Service, the OGC developed structured processes within the ITIL framework.  These new processes called for IT related issues to be more than just logged, resolved and closed, and so Incident Management was born.  Businesses are starting to subconsciously realise how much value the Service Desk adds but most of them just don’t like to admit it.

Request fulfilment appeared in ITIL V3 as the now Service Desks matured even more. We are now looking at – ….. classify, prioritise…… resolve, COMMUNICATION, close etc. So the customer service and communication aspect come into play so much more on a Service Desk than they do on a Help Desk. Customers and users want to feel important, like their issue is the only issue the Service Desk is dealing with that day. They want to know that you take their issue seriously and that you understand what impact their issue has on their role. So Service Desk Analysts must now be empathic, patient, understanding, analytical, be good trouble shooters, understand to what extent each incident impacts the business and how much each incident costs to handle. Most importantly they must have exemplary communication skills (communication skills – maybe that’s my next blog?).

Users see Service Desks as IT, they represent and are the face of IT. To this end, Service Desks need to be involved in every part of an Incident and Service Request lifecycle, and should be involved, to different extents, in other processes such as Problem Management, SLM, Change Management, SACM, to name a few. To the user, a Service Desk is a one stop information shop for all IT related issues – and some non IT related issues but let’s not go there.

So, if you are a Service Desk that doesn’t at least have a reasonably mature Incident, Problem and Service Request process (level 2-3 according to Pink Elephant’s PinkSCAN product) in place, if you are not considered as a valuable contributor to business outcomes and can tick off most of the points mentioned above, then sorry guys, you’re a Help Desk……..

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