Help Desk vs. Customer Service: Different Tools for Different Purposes

Sophie Danby March 27, 2023
- 8 min read

In the same way that a CRM and an ITSM tool are not equal, help desk and customer service fulfill different roles and therefore have different requirements.

Customer service is about Customer Experience (CX), whereas help desks are more technology focused. Additionally, both functions have different toolset requirements. In short, a help desk tool will look at the internal support model encompassing functionality to handle workflowsescalation, approvals, and ITIL best practices such as Problem, Change, and Asset Management. In contrast, customer service solutions are about the colleague's journey and experience. 

Thus, in our experience advising InvGate Service Desk clients worldwide, we noticed that some struggle to use customer service software to fulfill both roles. Customer success tools weren't conceived for tech support, so they often fall short. And that's where help desk software comes in handy since it's designed to support IT service delivery tasks.

To better understand the difference in usage, purpose, and expected outcomes, we opposed help desk vs. customer service and came up with a thorough guide to help you meet the needs of your business and recognize a poor toolset purchase. 

Ready to explore it? Let's go!

What does customer service do?

Customer service is a function that provides support to both potential and existing customers. Customer service professionals commonly answer customer questions through in-person, email, phone, chat, and social media interactions and are focused on giving the customer the best possible experience. 

Everyday customer service activities include:

  • Being the first point of contact for both potential and existing customers.
  • Answering questions.
  • Dealing with issues and complaints.

What does a help desk do?

A help desk is a point of contact for end-users to access technical support and help. Its role is to provide a point of contact for end-users, handle customer queries, and troubleshoot technical faults. It will also be the interface or gateway between the customer and other levels of IT support, fixing what they can at the first point of contact and escalating everything else to the remaining tiers in the operating model.

Common help desk activities include:

  • Acting as the single point of contact between the end user and the IT department.
  • Resolving common faults at the first point of contact.
  • Escalating incidents and faults that cannot be resolved over the phone.
  • Managing service requests, for example, permissions or equipment.

Help desk vs. customer service: differences and similarities

So far, we've established that while the help desk and customer service functions look after customers, they perform very different roles. In this section, we look at the similarities and differences between the two.

What do the help desk and customer service have in common?

In short, lots! They both focus on helping people and giving them the best possible outcomes. Both areas are responsible for interacting with customers and dealing with questions and issues; both teams can act as the face of the organization.

What do the help desk and customer services departments do differently?

The differences between the two areas primarily relate to tools and technology.

Both will deal with customer queries. The customer service team will deal with people and process queries, and the help desk will deal with technology issues (and some people and process queries related to the technology they're interacting with). 

In addition, both teams will communicate with end-users. Still, customer services usually communicate over the phone or web chat, while IT communicates using additional channels like remote support software and ticketing systems. 

Unlike the customer service team, who focuses on resolving business queries and complaints, the help desk focuses on technical issues such as troubleshooting, integrations, databases, and workflows.  

How do I know what my organization needs?

The reality is that every organization is different. Some companies will need both customer service and help desk functions; others may only need one or the other. When asking yourself if you need to buy dedicated customer service or help desk software, ask the following questions:

  • What outcome am I trying to achieve?
  • Does the role need to deal with technical issues?
  • Do we have unhappy customers? Do we need to work on improving customer satisfaction?
  • What does the end-to-end customer journey need to look like?

How to recognize a bad purchase?

Unfortunately, most help desk and customer service tools are flexible enough to be customized to the extent that they can cover the bare minimum. However, when doing so, they won't add any value. And that's precisely what you need to avoid.

If you're concerned about your toolset, some warning flags could include the following:

  • No one is using the software.
  • The software isn't being used for its intended purpose.
  • The software isn't making life easier for your people.
  • The software is clunky and complicated to use.
  • It's too difficult to update processes and workflows.
  • Low customer engagement.
  • Poor employee feedback and high colleague turnover.

The bottom line

Both the help desk and customer services fulfill essential roles within the organization. They are involved in looking after customers but focus on very different things. Remember:

  • The help desk looks after technology, whereas customer service looks after people.
  • Both will need different tools.
  • If the tool isn't being used or doesn't improve flow, it's probably not the right tool for your business.

Still not sure about what exactly you need? Our experts can help! Book a call with our team to assess your business situation and decide if you can improve it.

And if you have already decided you need a help desk, check out what InvGate Service Desk can do for you! Request a 30-day free trial or explore the live demo

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a help desk the same as customer service? 

No, they perform different roles within the company. The help desk focuses on technology, hardware, software, applications, and networks, whereas customer services focus on people.

What is a call center vs. help desk vs. service desk? 

A call center is an outward-facing team designed to conduct customer satisfaction surveys, arrange appointments, or answer customer queries. A help desk is a technically focused team that acts as a single point of contact for end users to get help with IT-related issues. 

On top of that, a service desk serves as the single point of contact for IT within the organization and combines aspects of both customer service and the help desk. It will resolve issues, fulfill service requests, answer questions, and signpost users to knowledge articles while providing customer service and experience levels codified in Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Experience Level Agreements (XLAs).

Read other articles like this : Service desk

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