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What is a service desk?

Service desks help level up IT support experiences. Try one for free to provide faster service, boost agent productivity, and improve security.

A guide to service desks for 2024

Last updated January 30, 2024

A service desk empowers support teams to provide exceptional technical service to customers, employees, suppliers, partners, and more. With a service desk IT solution, your teams can track, manage, update, and respond to service requests from one place to deliver a fast, helpful, and personalized support experience.

Learn more in our guide about the essentials of service desk software, how it can benefit your business, and how to pick the right one.

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What does an IT service desk do?

An IT service desk is a communications hub that allows support teams to manage and handle IT-related issues, incidents, service requests, and inquiries from end users. It provides a single point of contact between IT departments and end users for convenient, personalized support.

The primary functions of an IT service desk include:

  • Addressing technical problems and incidents reported by users, diagnosing the root cause, and providing solutions or workarounds to restore normal operations
  • Handling requests for IT services, software installations, access permissions, hardware setups, or other IT-related support
  • Offering technical assistance, guidance, and troubleshooting to users experiencing difficulties with software, hardware, networks, or other IT systems
  • Serving as a communication hub to inform users about IT service disruptions, maintenance schedules, and other relevant information
  • Maintaining a knowledge base with solutions, FAQs, troubleshooting guides, and best practices to facilitate quicker issue resolution and empower users to resolve common problems independently

What’s the difference between a help desk vs. a service desk vs. an IT service management system?

Businesses often confuse help desk software, service desks, and IT service management (ITSM) systems, referring to them as the same system. However, each system has a unique purpose, function, and approach to managing IT issues and services. Let’s explore the help desks vs. service desks vs. ITSM and what businesses will use them for.

  • Help desks primarily focus on providing reactive support to users, addressing issues related to hardware, software, or IT services as they arise. Help desks feature ticketing system tools, like customer service management software, that help users track, manage, and troubleshoot problems in a timely manner.
  • Service desks have broad use, offering a more proactive approach to customer service inquiries and internal IT service incidents. Service desks focus on creating streamlined processes for requesting support and resolving issues.
  • ITSMs are more comprehensive, including processes for incident management, problem management, change management, knowledge management, asset management, service request management, and more.

Simply put, help desks handle user issues as they arise, service desks help manage a wider range of IT services, and ITSM offers a comprehensive approach to managing and optimizing IT services throughout their life cycle.

The benefits of an IT service desk

The image depicts a list of the top benefits of IT service desks.

Here are a few ways an IT service desk benefits customers and employees.

  • Boosts customer and employee satisfaction: IT service desks offer omnichannel support and self-service options, helping users and employees resolve IT-related issues faster, which increases employee and customer satisfaction.
  • Improves agent productivity and efficiency: Service desk tools like a ticketing system, intelligent routing, and automations streamline workflows and handle repetitive tasks, helping agents handle more issues effectively.
  • Reduces operational costs: Service desks with AI-powered tools, like service desk chatbots, enable agents to do more with less. These tools handle incoming questions and requests from employees and customers. This frees up support teams to handle more complex issues with fewer resources, reducing operational costs.
  • Enables proactive service: Service desks help businesses identify potential problems before they cause issues and provide proactive support through trend analysis, monitoring systems, and predictive analytics.
  • Enhances data-driven decision-making: IT service desks use reporting and analytics tools that help teams gain valuable insights into trends, recurring issues, service performance, and user satisfaction levels. This allows for data-driven decision-making and continuous improvement of IT operations, services, and processes.

Bottom line: IT service desks address immediate technical issues and play a crucial role in enhancing user satisfaction, agent productivity, cost efficiency, proactive problem-solving, and informed decision-making.

Key capabilities of a service desk

A service desk effectively manages incidents, service requests, knowledge resources, changes, and problems, freeing up support teams to deliver better IT service, resolve issues quickly, and improve service quality. Let’s dive deeper into these key capabilities.

Incident management

Incident management involves handling and resolving unexpected IT service disruptions or incidents. The service desk logs, categorizes, prioritizes, and resolves incidents efficiently, aiming to restore normal operations as quickly as possible.

Request management

Request management focuses on handling user requests for IT services or assistance with issues unrelated to incidents. It involves managing service requests such as software installations, access permissions, hardware provisioning, or other service inquiries.

Knowledge management

Knowledge management refers to capturing, organizing, and sharing valuable information, best practices, known solutions, and troubleshooting guides within a knowledge base. This enables service desk agents to access relevant information to resolve issues more efficiently.

Change management

Change management deals with controlling and managing changes to the IT infrastructure, systems, or services in a systematic and controlled manner. The service desk ensures that changes are properly evaluated, planned, tested, implemented, and documented to minimize outages or disruptions and maintain service stability.

Problem management

Problem management focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of recurring incidents or issues to prevent them from happening again. It involves analyzing trends and implementing long-term solutions to eliminate or minimize the impact of problems on IT services.

Key technological components supporting service desks

An image shows a list of key components of a service desk.

Several technological components are instrumental in supporting service desks. These tools can streamline processes, enhance efficiency, and facilitate better communication and management of IT-related issues and services. When choosing your solution, consider the key technological components of service desks:

  • Automation and chatbots deflect common questions, handle repetitive tasks, speed up resolution times, and intelligently route issues to the agent best suited to help.
  • Generative AI uses artificial intelligence to generate knowledge base content, summarize service desk tickets, expand written replies from a few words into full responses, and adjust messaging tone to sound friendly or formal.
  • Collaboration tools enable team members to communicate effectively and work together to solve problems.
  • A ticketing system allows agents to categorize, tag, and prioritize tickets.
  • Reporting and analytics software track metrics like ticket volume, response times, customer satisfaction (CSAT), and Net Promoter ScoresⓇ (NPS).
  • Self-service options—such as knowledge base software, FAQ sections, help centers, and community forums—empower users to resolve issues independently.
  • Integrations let you connect apps and software you already use.
  • A unified, omnichannel agent workspace gives agents all the context they need to help customers and employees.

Service desks also vary regarding the channels and communication methods they offer. Some are solely email-based, while others incorporate live chat software, voice calls, social media, and more.

Service desk software best practices

Follow these best practices to maximize the benefits of service desk software while preventing the tickets from piling up.

  • Create a service desk catalog: A service desk catalog is a roadmap designed with customers in mind. A few key items to include in your service catalog are item names, departments, issue tracking process, delivery expectations, point of contact, cost of service, and security and access permissions.
  • Migrate to the cloud: Updating to a cloud-based service desk allows businesses to choose a subscription plan that fits their needs and scales with them as they grow. Third-party vendors handle software maintenance and updates so businesses can focus on their core business and save costs along the way.
  • Prioritize SLA and OLA management: Service desks help manage service level agreements (SLAs) and operational level agreements (OLAs) by alerting agents and management when either are at risk of not being met.
  • Personalize the experience: A service desk gives agents all the context and conversation history in a single view, allowing them to deliver personalized interactions with employees and customers.

How to choose the right service desk

The image depicts a list of three things to consider when choosing a service desk.

A service desk equips your customer service and internal support teams with the right tools to provide exceptional customer and employee experiences. Here are a few things to think about when choosing the best service desk for your business.

Consider the total cost of ownership and time to value

When picking a service desk, consider any extra costs you may incur, including implementation costs, maintenance fees, consultants, and add-ons—all of which contribute to the total cost of ownership (TCO). The best service desks—like Zendesk—offer a fast and simple setup, which can help maximize your time to value so you see a return on investment (ROI) sooner.

Determine the agility and ease of use

A flexible and customizable service desk solution enables you to adapt to changing needs quickly while keeping total costs low. For example, Zendesk offers an intuitive service desk solution that's easy to customize—so you don’t need IT or developer teams to maintain it. This allows support teams to keep up as the business grows and adapt to evolving IT needs.

Take advantage of free trials

Service desks that offer free trials allow you to take the software for a test drive before committing. This allows you to explore the solution’s features, capabilities, and usability to ensure the best fit for your business needs. Zendesk, for example, offers a 14-day free trial with full access so you can experience the benefits before you lock in.

Frequently asked questions


Instacart opts for Zendesk to deliver support across six teams

“The concept of a shared ticketing system is valuable for every piece of a support organization. Almost all our customer and shopper communications, HR, Payroll, and IT now go through Zendesk Support.”

Jeremy Flanagan

Customer Ops Project Lead of Tools

Read customer story

See what an IT service desk can do for you

The best service desk software is grounded in the user experience, intuitively designed for ease of use. Zendesk provides your agents with an open, flexible, and scalable solution with native features—like a modern interface, omnichannel agent workspace, and innovative AI and automation tools—that results in a fast time to value.

Add a robust apps and integrations marketplace into the mix to customize and extend the functionality of your service desk. Try Zendesk for free and start elevating your IT support operations today.

Net Promoter, Net Promoter Score, and NPS are trademarks of NICE Satmetrix, Inc., Bain & Company, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.

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