IT Service Desk, Helpdesks & Call Centers | How They Work

There’s so much information about the IT Service Desk, Helpdesk, and Call Centers out there, which can be overwhelming. Luckily, I’ve put together some information that will help you learn about what an IT Service Desk and Helpdesk are. As well as, what each of them can do for you, and how best you can pick one for yourself.

No matter who you are, it’s likely that you have multiple people interfacing with customers directly every day. If this is happening across several different email accounts with multiple different people, it can be tricky to have context into who is already speaking with a customer.

Helpdesk systems bring everyone’s interactions into one interface and allow different conversations to be cross-referenced and used for more context in the customer experience. It also allows for use of features such as categorization and automation as a means to keep track of what kinds of issues your customers are experiencing.

What is an IT Service Desk?

To enumerate, the IT Service Desk is intended to be a primary point of engagement between users and an IT organization. According to ITIL, the service desk is the single point of contact (SPOC) between the service provider (IT) and users for day-to-day activities.

A typical IT service desk manages incidents (service disruptions) and service requests (routine service-related tasks). Along with handling user communications for things like outages and planned changes to services.

Basically, the platform has a broad scope and is designed to provide the user with a single place to go for all their IT needs. This results in the service desk playing a pivotal role in facilitating the integration of business processes. Especially, with the technology ecosystem and broader service management infrastructure.

Important to realize, the IT helpdesk function was born in the late 1980s as a support capability to fix IT issues. It was a highly technical function focused on the technology rather than the end-users. Not to mention, the early IT helpdesk didn’t have the concept of SLAs or time-based targets for resolving issues.

It wasn’t until ITIL came onto the scene in the 1990s, capturing IT Service Management best practices, that the concept of the user-centric IT service desk began to emerge. The service desk was seen as an essential part of “managing IT like a service”.

What Does an IT Service Desk do?

The primary role of an IT service desk is to serve as the primary point of contact for monitoring and owning incidents. As well as, addressing user requests or questions. And providing a communications channel between other service management functions and the user community.

In addition to these core functions, the service desk often plays an active role in capturing change requests. Above all, maintaining 3rd party support contracts, managing software licenses, and assisting with problem management.

In some organizations, the service desk is integrated into other business processes such as:

  • Employee Onboarding
  • Acquisition Integration
  • Data Access Management
  • Supplier/Partner Onboarding and Off-boarding
  • Reporting and Metrics management
  • Business Continuity Management
  • Infrastructure/Service Monitoring

How is the IT Service Desk different from a Helpdesk or a Call Center?

Companies often use the terms “call center”, “helpdesk” and “service desk” interchangeably which can lead to some confusion. In that case, ITIL regards call centers and helps desks as limited kinds of service desks. By offering only a portion of what a service desk offers.

With ITIL taking a service-centric perspective and focusing on IT, this makes sense. For many companies, the ITIL definition doesn’t align with operational practices.

Therefore, making the distinction is much more complicated. Below are explanations of how the helpdesk and contact center function;

What is the Helpdesk?

A Helpdesk is a resource intended to provide the customer or internal user with information and support related to a company’s processes, products, and services. The purpose of a help desk is to provide a centralized resource.

As well as to answer questions, troubleshoot problems, and facilitate solutions to known problems. Helpdesks offer features to provide context and insight into customer experiences and also provide internal features to benchmark the performance of your support team.

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Ensuring that your team is truly the cream of the crop. Helpdesk Tools are one of the most integral tools when it comes to supporting a customer base successfully. Common examples of help-desks include Technical Support centers.

We also have Product Support /Warranty functions, Employee Benefits desks, and facilities service centers. Helpdesk support may be provided through various channels. Including physical locations, toll-free numbers, websites, instant messaging, or email.

What is a Call Center?

A call center or contact center is a central point for managing customer contacts and interactions. Whereby, it’s an office tasked with handling a large volume of requests typically by telephone. But, could include letters, faxes, social media, instant message or email as well.

Inbound call centers are often used for things like product support, customer service, order processing, and 24/7 phone services. While Outbound Call Centers are used for things like telemarketing, debt collection, and market research.

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A company may have multiple call centers supporting different parts of business operations (including IT). And they may either be managed in-house or through a 3rd party agency.

That said, you can read and learn more about What Is the Difference between Inbound and Outbound Call Centers? And as one can see, there is a lot of overlaps between the definitions of helpdesks, call centers, and IT Service Desks. The distinction among them really centers around the scope of what the function covers.

IT Helpdesk

A helpdesk is focused on providing “help” and “break-fix” support. Helpdesks don’t have to be IT-focused. Simply, because they can be used to support exceptions to normal operations that take place all over the company.

They can either be physical locations interacting directly with requestors in person or remote/virtual locations. By using technology such as phone, email, chat, and other technologies to facilitate a virtual engagement.

IT Contact Centers

Call Centers are the broadest in the scope of issues that they cover. Including both technical and non-technical topics. Contact centers don’t interact with requestors in person and always involve some sort of intermediary technology to facilitate engagement.

IT Service Desk

IT Service Desks focus only on supporting IT Services but handle both the reactive “help” services as well as supporting routine tasks. Like provisioning of resources, access management, etc.

In addition, IT Service Desks may be physical locations that users can visit in-person or they may be remote operations like a call center. Those versed in ITIL may say that the help desk is tactical. While a service desk is strategic – this will vary across organizations.

What are the Benefits of an IT Service Desk?

In general, a helpdesk tool helps create organization out of chaos by keeping your ticket process clean and giving your agents the tools that they need to best do their job.

With the publishing of ITIL v2 in 2001, the Service Desk function and its role in incident and request management became one of the core components of IT service operations in many organizations. As the decade continued, globalization along with increasing pressures to reduce IT operational costs led many organizations to centralize IT Service Desk functions.

At the same time, with many engaging 3rd party support partners to staff them. Outsourcing of IT service desk functions led to further standardization of processes and growth in the market for help desk ticketing software. Below are the main benefits of the IT Service Desk;

Cost Savings and Scalability

Cost savings and scalability are the two most common benefits that companies are seeking when they implement an IT Service Desk. A service desk that is properly staffed and well managed can handle much of the routine work of IT.

The service desk provides organizations with a relatively low-cost option. For transferring simple work from expensive engineering teams and subject matter experts. Enabling them to focus on activities that add more value to the company.

The service desk can also provide a means for the company to provide follow-the-sun support to global operations and distributed user communities.

A Finger on the Pulse of User Sentiment

In general, the service desk is the starting point for many key processes and services for IT. And as such is often the primary interface between users, business processes, and the IT services that enable them.

Monitoring this interaction provides valuable insight into user satisfaction. As well as, sentiment towards services, features and unmet needs.

Early warning of potential problems

Because of the volume of issues and requests that the service desk handles, with the right data and tools for evaluating patterns and trends, the organization can use the service desk as a monitoring tool. To identify and preemptively address service issues.

The “early warning system” that the service desk provides can enable proactive problem management. As well as, preventative maintenance and service change to reduce the user impacts of outages and service degradation.

Which Software Supports an IT Service Desk?

Basically, an effective IT Service Desk requires a solid technology foundation to provide agents with the tools and information to effectively address requestors’ needs.

End-User Self-Service

Many issues and requests that generate user calls into the platform are things that the user could address on their own if they had the right set of tools and access to information. Self-service support capabilities enable users to resolve their issues faster, without the delays of waiting for an agent.

They also save the company money by reducing the need for additional agent capacity in the IT Service Desk to support simple requests. Some of the most common self-service capabilities include:

  • Knowledge Search
  • Self-service diagnostics
  • Automated common processes
  • Service Request form

Knowledge Management

Technically, Knowledge is the most valuable resource the service desk has. And in order to maximize operational performance, they need to make knowledge data the best quality it can be. As such, the essential functions of a knowledge management system include:

  • Knowledge Database (KMDB)
  • Separate agent and end-user views of knowledge data
  • Knowledge Management workflows to support a knowledge lifecycle
  • Known Issue / Known Error Database (KEDB)
  • Suggestive key-word searching based on an incident description

Help Desk Ticketing

The helpdesk ticketing system serves as the core transactional platform for the IT Service Desk. Orchestrating both incidents and service requests throughout the service desk function and any extended support teams. The essential functions of the ticketing system include:

  • Workflow management
  • Alerts/Escalations
  • Automated Routing
  • Contract/SLA Management

ITSM Integration

The IT Service Desk operates as a piece of the greater Service Management operations of your IT function. Mainly, by integrating the service desk software with other parts of the company’s ITSM system. Some of the integrations that are particularly valuable include:

Which are the IT Service Desk Best Practices?

Surprisingly, companies have been operating IT service desks for many years, and out of those operations, some best practices have emerged.

Customer Engagement

  • Examine customers behavior and expectations to make sure you understand their needs
  • Provide an end-user Self-help portal accessible 24 hrs/day
  • Use SLAs and priority/severity classification to differentiate requests so you can address the most critical ones first
  • Try to resolve issues at the first point of engagement and avoid hand-offs, escalations, and the need for call-backs
  • Perform customer satisfaction surveys on a regular basis to understand how your clients feel about the services they are receiving

Management & Reporting

  • Use real-time helpdesk reports, dashboards, and analytics to monitor operations and initiate corrective actions before issues become problems
  • Ensure escalation and handoff processes are clear and well understood
  • Leverage analytics capabilities from your ITSM system to reduce the time/effort to generate reports
  • Ensure management experiences your service desk operations first hand to gain an appreciation for what service desk staff do and the challenges they face
  • Treat service desk staff as professional communicators and problem-solvers, giving them the tools they need to be successful

IT Service Desk Technology

  • Implement service request workflow capabilities in your helpdesk software to help orchestrate escalations and hand-offs
  • Provide automation capabilities for common user requests (access, password reset, etc)
  • Use your service desk software to facilitate and record communications between agents and requestors
  • Integrate your systems into your broader ITSM to provide agents greater access to information about the IT environment

Knowledge Management

  • Implement a knowledge management system accessible by multiple users to capture knowledge
  • Provide answers to Frequently Asked Questions directly to end-users – avoiding the need for agent contact
  • Keep your knowledge records current and accurate by reviewing and purging knowledge records frequently


As can be seen, the platform is an essential part of the ITSM function of modern companies. Whereas, technology takes on a broader role as an integrated part of business processes and users’ experiences. Ensuring that the technology services are working well and accessible to those people who need to use them is critical.

Eventually, the user-centric platform, with its orchestrated workflows, deep wealth of organizational knowledge, and connections into the rest of the IT organization, is the critical link between users and the IT organization.

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Whether your organization is more technology-focused and needing an integrated ITSM solution like Fresh Service or taking a broader view of the service desk. In supporting not only IT but other business functions using a customer service helpdesk management system like Fresh Desk, and Fresh Works.

All that has solutions to help your organization be successful. Finally, What do you think about the IT Service Desk? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below this blog. You can also Contact Us if you’ll have additional questions.

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