IT help desk guide: Definition, features, and benefits

Automate workflows, simplify customer and employee support, and extend your team’s bandwidth with an IT help desk. Discover the solution to keep your business organized when technical issues pop up.

IT help desk for professional tech support

Last updated January 11, 2023

When your agents have to bounce between several apps and programs to do their jobs, it doesn’t make for a positive employee experience. They’re likely wasting time looking for information that’s hard to surface, finding it difficult to keep tabs on tickets, and feeling overwhelmed by the number of platforms they’re using.

With over 40 percent of workers open to new roles, it’s crucial to keep your employees engaged and happy—you don’t want another company to lure your top talent away.

An IT help desk gives your IT team an organized system with the tools required to track and solve issues from various channels in one workspace.

Read our comprehensive guide to learn the basics and benefits of an IT help desk, and discover why your team needs a simple, reliable, and intuitive solution like Zendesk.

What is an IT help desk?

An IT help desk is a software platform that helps users solve their problems through single (or multiple) points of contact.

IT help desks allow employees and IT team members to:

  • Troubleshoot problems
  • Track their issues
  • Get assistance with help desk services, products, or processes

When a technical issue flares up with a device or piece of software, it’s the IT help desk that everyone runs to. But you’ll find much more than technical experts walking you through the process of fixing your IT problems.

The modern help desk encompasses a wide range of capabilities, including:

  • Integration with self-service portals to empower employees to surface answers to common IT questions on their own.
  • Providing IT leaders visibility into the types of cases and problems that reoccur, enabling them to proactively find solutions and create standardized processes to fix issues.

An effective IT help desk makes it easy for people to get the support they need, so businesses are inherently more customer-centric. It also helps agents solve issues quickly, reduces downtime, and boosts productivity.

Who uses IT service desk software?

All teams can benefit from IT service desk software. It’s rare to find an IT department that doesn’t use some sort of service desk solution. This is because IT teams often manage numerous processes and interact with every department of an organization.

How does an IT help desk work?

An IT help desk is usually the first point of contact for employees and customers to get help with their IT issues.

IT staff can use IT help desk software to create tickets for a wide range of events, such as:

  • Bugs in company software
  • New feature requests
  • General employee questions
  • Problems with the network or VPN
  • Issues with login credentials
  • Device compatibility issues
  • Scheduled maintenance updates

Whether an employee picks up the phone or sends a text or email, the software creates a help desk ticket for each issue in a central location. On the IT team’s side, a simple user interface enables them to share information with one another and work on multiple tickets at once. A single issue may require input from different departments, so this is a useful feature to have.

The best IT help desk software also helps development teams track bugs by batching tickets with similar problems. Chances are, several employees will encounter issues related to the same bug, so you can save time by grouping tickets together. When you’ve patched the bug, you can resolve all related tickets at once.

Having a searchable help center makes an IT service help desk even more valuable. You can provide quick answers to common questions, and you can create a place for senior-level employees to share their knowledge with new recruits. An internal help center like this can decrease the number of help desk tickets and reduce new hire onboarding times.

How did IT service desks originate?

When the IT revolution was revving up in the late ‘80s, IT help desks were created as a tool specifically for IT teams instead of end users. Today, that distinction has become a bit blurry, as help desks can be used to benefit customers, too.

IT help desks mainly focus on incident management. They’re typically used to provide reactive, rather than proactive, assistance through a help desk ticketing system. When an employee or customer has an IT-related issue, they can submit a ticket, and an IT team member will help them resolve it.

At the end of the day, a help desk is a subset of the service desk. Its function is to serve the current needs of your IT team so they can better serve the needs of your organization.

IT help desk vs. other solutions

IT help desks get confused with a lot of other problem-solving solutions, and terms are often used interchangeably. While there’s no harm in placing them under the same umbrella, there are key differences in their functionalities that set them apart. The responsibilities they handle, however, are up to the company to implement.

What is the difference between a help desk and service desk in IT?

An IT service desk helps teams proactively maintain services, manage incidents, and communicate with end users and customers. It’s a customer-centric communication hub where users, employees, and stakeholders can solicit help from their IT service providers. Ultimately, an IT service desk’s goal is to resolve issues quickly while providing the most helpful service possible.

Both IT service help desks and IT help desks handle incident management commonly referred to as “break-fix.” But IT service desks also handle service request fulfillment, self-service, and reporting. Essentially, they include IT help desk capabilities as well as avenues for fielding new requests and providing self-service options and knowledge management for employees.

Depending on the structure of an organization, the tasks between the service desk and the help desk may intertwine. The exact responsibilities vary from company to company, so there’s no need to be too strict with definitions.

What is the difference between help desk and desktop support in IT?

IT help desk support provides more comprehensive assistance with a company’s IT process, software, or systems, while desktop IT support offers help to front-end computer users.

Desktop support technicians work with the user to troubleshoot network and software issues. The technicians commonly interact with the user through voice or virtual chat and coach the user through each step to solve the problem.

If the issue is particularly complicated—or if the user isn’t tech savvy—the desktop support technician can usually remotely connect to the user’s computer to gain control and navigate the system themselves.

What is the difference between IT help desk and technical support?

These two terms are frequently used interchangeably, and depending on the company, they may end up serving the same functions. Sometimes, you’ll find definitions that claim technical support involves a higher level of technical expertise. Technical support experts tend to solve more complex technical issues that may be out of the help desk’s realm of knowledge.

For instance, say your printer isn’t working. If this is an isolated hardware issue, you would call the help desk. But if the entire system of printers isn’t working, you would reach out to technical support because there’s probably a problem with the network.

10 benefits of IT help desk support

Investing in the best help desk IT support offers several perks for your business. From improving efficiency and quality to boosting employee satisfaction and saving money, an IT help desk can enable you to develop and scale your business. Here are 10 benefits of IT help desk support.

10 benefits of IT help desk support

1. More efficient operations

We’ve all had that experience where we’re working on a project, making good time, and feeling productive—then it all comes to a screeching halt with the dreaded “error” message. You’ve hit a roadblock that you don’t have the skills to move past, and the deadline for your project is fast approaching.

Nobody likes to blame the software for a project not getting done on time.

Having a robust help desk IT support system in place gives users a faster and more efficient way to get past IT issues. Provide your teams with a centralized platform to turn to so they can either solve the issue on their own or find the right person to contact for assistance.

2. Boosts IT’s productivity

Some IT support technical issues can be resolved quickly with the right instructions. The problem is, not everyone knows where to find those instructions, and frustration grows the longer they search for them.

IT help desks provide users with a way to find solutions to their problems in just a few clicks, so they don’t tie up IT staff’s time with phone calls and thousands of questions.

IT help desks allow team members to operate more efficiently by providing them with the tools they need—such as a help desk ticketing system and automation—to manage and resolve IT-related requests effectively. By better organizing tasks and improving workflows, IT teams can spend more time focusing on pressing matters or strategic work.

3. Increases your ROI

Technology should speed up business, not slow it down. Technical difficulties hold up operations—and can even grind it to an abrupt halt—and every minute that passes can translate into dollars seeping from your bottom line. IT service desks are invaluable in helping your company run smoothly, which keeps your profits flowing.

4. Identifies pain points

IT help desks enable leaders to track trends and spot gaps in IT service delivery, such as ticket response times and resolutions. Analyzing this data ultimately helps them make smarter and more informed decisions.

Understanding pain points also allows you to anticipate problems so you can proactively create a solution before they even occur. Letting the same issues happen over and over again stunts growth, but identifying the problem areas and strategizing to improve operations means you can continue to plan for expansion.

5. Improves service quality

Employees want their company to offer them the same quality of service it offers to customers. An IT help desk allows organizations to do that by streamlining workflows with automation and providing employee self-service options.

The best IT help desks present a wealth of valuable data on how to enhance IT quality. Pay attention to key help desk metrics like ticket data, performance stats, response times, and first-contact resolution times. This can give you valuable insights on how to refine your service operations or what content to add to your knowledge base.

6. Centralizes communication

When someone needs a new power supply cable or the entire printer network suddenly crashes, seamless communication between teams is crucial. An IT help desk that features centralized, omnichannel support empowers your team to provide high-quality, personalized service—especially when serving internal teams.

Here are a few apps to integrate with your IT help desk to improve communication and solve issues internally:

  • Slack encourages team communication so everyone stays in the loop when issues arise.
  • JIRA provides a holistic view of issues to engineers and support teams, allowing them to collaborate for faster resolutions.
  • Okta Actions helps IT and tech support teams perform actions like password resets, account suspensions or deactivations, and clearing existing user sessions.

Centralized communication helps keep your team in sync so your organization can run like a well-oiled machine. When your team is equipped with the right tools, they can get the job done efficiently and effectively.

7. Enhances customization

IT help desks allow agents to customize their existing tools and workflows with apps, plugins, integrations, and automations. This means tech support can access information related to employee issues, automate ticket management, and streamline processes to proactively address issues before they have a chance to escalate.

Agents can also create custom fields to add important information about the ticket. These custom fields can include:

  • Type of issue
  • Employee designation
  • Department

The extra information collected through your custom fields can help you track metrics on the types of ticket requests. Using drop-down fields simplifies the experience and makes it easy to compile custom reports.

8. Prioritizes IT tasks

IT help desk software can help you categorize and prioritize tickets so your team can provide quick, efficient service and address the most urgent issues first. For example, replacing a teammate’s keyboard is far less pressing than addressing a router issue affecting an entire network.

Tickets can also be sorted so requests that have been in the queue the longest will be at the front of the line.

9. Improves employee satisfaction

Investing in an effective IT help desk can increase employee satisfaction and set your teams up for success. Providing teams with tools and workflows that make their jobs easier will result in more productivity and better quality work. These tools include:

  • A help center: Enable employees to find answers on their own with a user-friendly help center that features articles, tutorials, and FAQs.
  • Voice and SMS: Mobile phones are one of the easiest and most direct ways to communicate. Whether your employee is working from home, in the office, or from Starbucks, you can reach them in a flash.
  • Messaging: Live chat and messaging apps help interactions with tech support agents feel friendly and conversational without sacrificing visibility or security.
  • Chatbots: AI-powered bots can respond quickly to common questions and complete basic conversation flows, handling simple issues so you can focus on more complex problems.

10. Supports scalability

To meet your customers’ evolving needs, your business must continue scaling operations. Investing in a good IT help desk—especially from a provider that can offer support, updates, and bug fixes—can make it easier for you to grow with your customer base and consistently deliver exceptional, personalized customer experiences.

Features like automation and chatbots are especially useful and can help you scale your business. In the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022, one in five leaders said using AI brings a “very high” return on investment. Using chatbots for common problems allows support staff to spend time on other issues, resulting in higher ticket resolution. This gives your company the ability to scale without increasing headcount.

Plus, chatbots are available 24/7, so people can reach out for support when it’s convenient for them.

Best practices for IT help desk

Whether your company needs an IT help desk or IT service desk solution, it’s imperative to focus on your end users: your IT staff members (who provide support and services) and your employees and customers (who receive the support).

it help desk best practices

Here are a few IT help desk best practices to consider implementing for your organization:

  • Use automation and business rules to reduce time spent on repetitive or manual tasks and workflows. This also ensures you maintain SLAs and service quality around the clock.
  • Build an internal knowledge base—a repository where users can find articles, how-tos, and other content—to help team members solve problems independently.
  • Monitor key IT metrics (such as resolution and response times) to continuously optimize performance.
  • Leverage integrations with third-party apps to ensure continuity between your IT help desk and the tools your company already uses.
  • Customize your help desk with user experience in mind. Consider the emotions and attitudes of the people who will be using it, and be deliberate in how you structure navigation, interfaces, and processes.
  • Look for support. Software is only one part of the equation—set your team up for success by investing in training and professional development and equipping them with the right tools and resources.
  • Capture feedback so you continue improving. Metrics will only show you part of the picture, so it’s important to gather and mine feedback for useful information on how you can further refine your IT help desk processes.

You can attach service tickets to IT assets by integrating your help desk with an IT help desk management platform. This paints the full picture so you can see who is using what software platforms on which devices. With this level of insight, your IT team can be more proactive in mitigating risks.

Your IT help desk solution

Traditional IT help desk solutions can be cumbersome and overly complex. Thankfully, Zendesk offers a simple, reliable, and intuitive solution: our user-friendly IT help desk.

  • Customize your IT help desk with our well-documented open APIs, chat SDKs, and mobile SDKs, and get access to top-tier apps that seamlessly integrate with your existing tools.
  • IT help desk 01

  • Manage the lifecycle and inventory of your IT assets and minimize the impact on services by controlling adjustments to the IT system with change and asset management.
  • Automate with chatbots to manage workflows, issues, and service requests so your team can focus on what matters most.
  • IT help desk img 03

  • Measure key IT metrics with pre-built and custom reports to make smarter business decisions.
  • Optimize your IT help desk with request management, incident management, and problem management to prioritize tickets, eliminate issues, and minimize recurring incidents.
  • IT help desk 02

IT help desk customer stories

office employees sitting at a desk discussing work on a laptop

Companies large and small trust Zendesk to help them improve internal operations, build better employee relationships, and transform the modern workplace. Some companies like Xerox have been using Zendesk for over a decade and stick around—not only because of the product, but also because of the great customer experience.

“We knew that Zendesk was a flexible, intuitive solution, and we found it cost-effective to implement,” says Lucille R., the eSolutions manager at Xerox. “Throughout our implementation process, Zendesk’s support staff was extremely helpful and attentive.”

By using Zendesk, Xerox was able to scale successfully.

  • Xerox employees started fielding 20 to 30 tickets per day thanks to automation and an internal knowledge base, helping the team scale requests without increasing headcount.
  • They also integrated Zendesk Support with their existing catalog system so Xerox customers could easily create new Document Services accounts, reducing registration time.

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania also experienced the power of Zendesk firsthand. Wharton’s older IT help desk made for a bad employee experience, as it didn’t integrate with its existing tech stack. The team wanted something that was easy to use, had a quick setup time, and would connect with their other systems.

Once implemented, Zendesk enabled Wharton to achieve these goals and more, making its employees’ jobs easier. The school now has:

  • Higher customer and employee satisfaction
  • Smoother communication and processes
  • Increased transparency
  • Inspired seven additional departments to adopt Zendesk


Neat + Zendesk: 24/7 omnichannel support for startups

“Ultimately, customer centricity really drives each and every decision we make on a daily basis. Having a tool that maximizes and optimizes our ability to engage and communicate with customers is of key importance.”

David Rosa


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