If you want to know the answer, and this article isn’t your first stop, I wouldn’t blame you for feeling a little desperate. If you’ve asked the question “What’s the difference between a service desk and a help desk?”, I’m sure you got a whole lot of answers. Even worse, many of them probably seemed completely contradictory.

Support can be complicated!

You’ll see some answers that say it’s to do with the level of service offered, others positing that one is external and the other internal, and even more saying that help desks deal with incidents while service desks deal with, well, the whole service. So who’s right in the battle of service desk vs help desk?

Luckily, the majority of answers have a valid point – they just don’t give you the difference at the bottom line. So here goes – a help desk is a sub-component of a service desk. You can have a help desk without a service desk, but it provides a more limited function – it receives issues (tickets) and solves them. The service desk, however, is concerned with the overall, day-to-day business process, including how the help desk solves issues. It would be very unusual to have a service desk that didn’t have a help desk.

Let me give you an example. Company A has a service desk. It’s headed up by Maria. It also has a help desk, managed by Bob. Bob’s team receives support requests. Karen can’t connect to her local printer, for example so she calls Bob. Bob connects her computer to the printer, and the support ticket is resolved. However, when Maria is reviewing that week’s tickets, she notices that a lot of people on Karen’s floor are having printing problems, and even more are complaining that printing is very slow. Deciding that this is an issue that requires further investigation, Maria opens a ticket, asking Bob to look into it. In other words, the help desk solves concrete problems, and the service desk makes sure the whole shebang is working as efficiently as possible.

This is good news for you, because whether you need a help desk or a service desk, there are plenty of tools that can support you. When you check out service desk software, one of the first applications you’ll come across is Samanage. This service desk app is a great one to take a look at, as it clearly shows the difference between a help desk, and a service desk.

samanage_logoSamanage IT Service Desk

As the name suggests, Samanage is a service desk app. It contains a help desk module, but also takes care of more “executive functions”. So, the software’s IT Service Desk works as your usual help desk element, allowing users to raise, track and resolve tickets. Centering in on this function, this help desk module provides a similar service to apps such as:


This app covers all the basics – and turns emails into tickets – but is perfect for smaller teams, with mobile access and quick integration. Users also point out that it’s great value for money, which is always a good thing.


This tool is another mid-priced all rounder. It scores highly on the basics – it supports multiple request routes, automatically creates tickets, and is simple to incorporate into your business.

Samanage, and other apps like it, go above and beyond, however – that “extra mile” that people talk about. As well as providing a ticketing option, it provides you with the tools you need to make sure that – from an IT perspective – the whole company is functioning as well as it might. So what kind of tools can it provide to do this? Well, there’s:

  • Asset management
  • Contracts and licences,
  • Knowledge bases
  • Service delivery tools
  • Reporting

Perhaps most interestingly of all, it provides problem and change management, which is absolutely crucial once your organization passes a certain size.

Summing Up

So, are the differences between service desks and help desks any clearer now? The two tools are part of the same family, but as opposed to providing competing functions, help desks are part of a service desk, helping them to function fully. Many of the theories as to their differences are actually correct – help desks deal exclusively with “incidents”, service desks ensure help desks – and more – are functioning as effectively as possible. Help desks do deal with “external” problems, in the sense that they focus on helping an end user solve their problems. Service desks, meanwhile, ensure that the internal workings of the IT function run as smoothly as possible. Help desks raise a ticket, solve it, and move on, whereas service desks look at the circumstances surrounding those tickets and make sure the processes that gave rise to them favor efficiency. In the past, in particular the days before the advent of the ITIL 2007 edition, the terms “service desk” and “help desk” were used somewhat interchangeably. Since then, however, the differences are quite clear – even if some people don’t seem to have received the memo! Now you know the difference, the question you really need to ask is if your organization can survive on “just” a help desk, or if volume, staff numbers and corporate processes require you to jump up a level and look into a service desk app.