Help Desk Definition

What is the definition of a help desk?

The standard definition of a help desk is that it is a place to get help and support on products and services, especially those related to IT. While the term is still widely used, it’s increasingly used in a colloquial, informal way. Many areas which were formerly known as “help desks” have now been officially rebranded, often to service desks or support desks.

In the strictest terms, however, there is a difference between a help desk, a service desk and a support desk and this difference needs to be clearly understood so that it can be reflected in the decisions you make, including the tools you purchase for your agents. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at help desks versus service desks and support desks.

Help desks

The defining feature of a help desk is that it is reactive. While the concept of reactivity has acquired something of a negative connotation over recent years, this is unfair. The fact is that even with the best planning in the world, sometimes unexpected events are going to occur and you just have to deal with them.

A standard help desk will receive communications from users (possibly internal, possibly external) and will gather all the relevant information about them. They will aim to resolve the query there and then and capture the details for the customer’s record. If they cannot, they will undertake at least basic triage, route the query appropriately and set an expectation as to the next steps and timescales to resolution.

Help Desk Definition

Information from help-desk records can often be used to inform the business as a whole, but a help desk does not really get involved in strategic activities, with the possible exception of contributing towards relevant customer-facing content such as FAQs and knowledge-bases.

Service desks

According to ITIL, a service desk is a “single point of contact between the service provider and the users.” Whereas a help desk reactively handles individual queries, a service desk will proactively manage a service. In particular, it will develop processes, communicate them to users and monitor compliance with them. Service desks are often heavily involved in organizational strategy, especially in areas where technology can contribute to business development and also in change management.

As service desks are essentially management functions, it is quite common for the hands-on tasks to be performed by other areas under the supervision of the service desk. This can include the help desk, although it is also fairly common for the help desk to be incorporated into the service desk, to create a complete one-stop-shop for users.

Support desks

The term support desk seems to have crossed over from other industries and is often used as a synonym for customer service desk. While the definitions of support desk and customer service desk are still fairly informal, these terms generally relate to business areas where there is an emphasis on managing the relationship with the customer rather than just solving problems or managing the provision of a service.

What this means in practice

The reason why you need to be very clear about what function a business area performs is so that you can support that business area in the most effective way possible. In particular, it means getting them the tools it needs and ideally the tools it genuinely wants, but not weighing it down with “functionality” which serves no practical purpose.

In short, you want to keep any software you use as simple as you possibly can, so that users can perform tasks with the minimum of effort and hence save their brain-power for helping the human customer.

If all you are running is a basic help desk, then all you need is basic help desk software. It’s usually far more important to have a clean, intuitive interface than to have a whole pile of “value-add features” which “might come in handy” some day. If you plan to introduce a proper service desk in the future, then wait until you are ready and then buy into a fully-fledged IT service management product.

Even if a software vendor offers you a really great deal, the simple fact is that software is a very fast-moving industry and so by the time you are ready to implement your service desk, there is a very good chance that the same money will get you a better solution in any case. Additionally you will be training staff on software they will actually be using, which gives them a better chance of remembering what they are taught.

Common IT help desk issues