You’ve heard the term IT help desk. You’ve probably also heard of IT service desks. They’re pretty much the same thing, aren’t they? They sound similar enough, so when people start throwing around mentions of help desk vs service desk, you don’t raise an eyebrow. After all, you don’t want to seem like you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Here’s the thing: an IT help desk differs from an IT service desk. If you’re in charge of your company’s IT department, it’s kind of essential to understand that difference. Depending on your choice, it could mean the difference between a smoothly-running IT operation and a department focused on putting out fires.

So what are the differences when it comes to a help desk vs service desk? And how do you know which one is right for your business? Let’s take a closer look.

What is an IT help desk?

An IT help desk is meant to be a single point of contact (SPOC) that employees and customers can use to get support from your business. Its primary function is to solve immediate technical issues efficiently.

There’s no planning, no long-term thinking, and no proactive problem-solving when it comes to an IT help desk. Instead, it’s all about reacting to situations as they come up and solving them as quickly as possible.

A help desk’s key features include:

  • Providing a knowledge base of articles and self-help solutions
  • A ticketing system to track and resolve issues
  • An escalation process to ensure that problems are dealt with promptly

A help desk can be part of a broader IT service desk, but can also stand independently. Some companies also set up individual product-dedicated help desks to support a specific product or service.

What is an IT service desk?

In addition to solving immediate technical issues, a service desk takes a more strategic approach to managing your company’s IT infrastructure by also dealing with service requests and communications. It looks at the company’s needs as a whole instead of reacting to individual problems.

Some of the essential features of a service desk include:

  • Asset management
  • Incident management
  • Request fulfillment
  • Config management
  • Service level agreement organization
  • Information assistance

Help desk vs service desk: What are the differences?

What are the key differences when it comes to a help desk vs a service desk? Here’s a quick overview:

Help DeskService Desk
User centricBusiness oriented
Break/Fix model“Bigger Picture” model
Task orientedProcess Oriented

Let’s take a closer look at each of these points.

User-centric vs business-oriented

A help desk is there to solve problems for your employees or customers, while a service desk is there to help manage and improve your company’s IT infrastructure.

For example, let’s say you have an issue with your email. You would contact the IT help desk, and they would work to solve the problem as quickly as possible. However, that’s where the help desk team’s job stops. On the other hand, the service desk team would not only solve the email issue but would also try to figure out why the issue happened in the first place and how to prevent it from happening again.

Proactive vs reactive

A service desk looks at the big picture and plans for future needs, while a help desk only deals with immediate problems as they come up.

Let’s say your company is growing, and you need to add more users to your email system. A service desk manager would plan for this growth and ensure that your email system can handle the additional users. The help desk team would only be concerned with solving the immediate problem of adding more users to the system.

Break-fix model vs bigger picture model

The IT help desk is focused on the break-fix model while the IT service desk takes a bigger-picture approach. In the break-fix model, if something goes wrong, the user gets in touch with the help desk, and the help desk team fixes the problem.

In the bigger picture model, the service desk team goes beyond dealing with the immediate looks at how the problem can be prevented from happening again. They also proactively work to improve the company’s IT infrastructure.

For example, your company’s website goes down. In the break-fix model, the help desk team would work to get the website back up and running as quickly as possible. In the bigger picture model, the service desk team would also investigate the root cause as to why the website went down in the first place and work to prevent it from happening again.

Check out this great interview with Auvik’s Product Strategy Director, Steve Petryschuk, all about Root Cause Analysis.

Process-centric vs task-oriented

The service desk team looks at how they can improve the entire support process, while the help desk team is focused on offering users the best solution for their needs.

If the help desk team is getting lots of calls from users who can’t log in to their computers, the team would focus on providing users with a quick fix to solve their login problems. The service desk team would instead look at the entire login process and figure out how to make it more efficient.

Help desk vs service desk: the pros and cons

Now that we’ve looked at the main differences when it comes to help desk vs service desk, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of each.

Help desk pros and cons

A help desk can be an excellent solution for businesses that need quick, efficient support for their employees or customers. Some of the benefits of a help desk include:

  • Less downtime for employees and customers due to rapid resolution of simple problems
  • Less expensive to set up and maintain than service desks
  • Easier to set up as employees require less training than with a service desk.

On the downside, a help desk can be less effective for businesses that need to manage more complex IT issues because the team is only focused on solving immediate problems. Other drawbacks include:

  • Limited scope when it comes to problem-solving
  • Higher costs in the long run as complex issues take longer to resolve
  • Risk of the same problem occurring again and again
  • Reduced efficiency of IT staff because

You would think that all businesses would benefit from having a service desk, but that’s not always the case. A service desk can be a great solution, but can also be a costly and time-consuming investment. Some of the benefits of an effective service desk include:

  • Reduced downtime due to a proactive approach
  • Increased levels of satisfaction for users
  • Lower costs in the long run
  • Improved efficiency and productivity, as the entire support process is streamlined and preventative measures are put in place to avoid repeating incidents

On the downside, a service desk can be expensive and time-consuming to set up and maintain. It can also be overkill for businesses that only need to provide simple support to their employees or customers. Other drawbacks include:

  • Service desk software and tools can be challenging to use
  • The team may need more training to use the service desk effectively
  • There is a risk that the service desk becomes a bottleneck if it’s not managed correctly.

Which is best for your business?

So, how do you decide whether a help desk or service desk is best for your needs? The answer will depend on several factors, including the size of your business, the nature of your IT support needs, and your budget.

Business Size

If you’re a small business with a limited IT support infrastructure, a help desk may be all you need. However, if you’re a larger business with complex IT support needs, a service desk will give you the added benefits of proactive problem-solving and increased efficiency.

A business with 500 employees that relies heavily on email and other online communications would likely benefit from a service desk. On the other hand, a company with 50 employees that mainly use on-premise applications may only need a help desk.


If you’re in a regulated industry such as healthcare or finance, you may need a service desk to meet compliance standards. Likewise, if you manufacture and sell computer hardware, a service desk would be essential to provide quick and efficient support to your customers.

Conversely, if you run a small retail business, a help desk may be all you need to provide support for your POS system and other basic IT needs.


It’s also worth considering your budget. Help desks are generally less expensive to set up and maintain than service desks, so if you’re working with limited resources, a help desk may be the best solution.

However, money should not be the only deciding factor. In some cases, the benefits of a service desk (e.g., increased efficiency, and reduced downtime) may outweigh the costs.

A business that experiences regular downtime due to IT issues may find that a service desk’s increased efficiency and productivity more than offset the cost of setting it up and maintaining it.


Help desk tools are usually simpler and easier to use than service desk tools, so if you don’t have the resources to invest in training for your team, a help desk may be the way to go.

On the other hand, service desk tools offer more features and functionality, so if you need to manage complex IT issues, a service desk is the better option.

Help desk vs service desk: ready to choose?

Now that the help desk vs service desk debate is settled, it’s time to decide which is right for your business. Clearly, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but by considering the factors discussed above, you should be able to make an informed decision that will help your business run more smoothly.

No matter what type of support you’re looking to set up for your company, or your clients, Auvik is the network monitoring and management system you’ll want at the center of it all. Find out how Auvik can help you take control of your network today.

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