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What is a service desk?

Great service desk software helps your business build long-lasting relationships. Level up your employee and customer experiences with the best service desk software – you’ll have satisfied customers, productive agents and improved security.

What is a service desk?

Last updated January 22, 2024

A service desk empowers support teams to provide exceptional service to both customers and employees, all in one place.

With a service desk solution, your teams have the proper tools and resources to do their jobs well. They can work more efficiently and deliver fast, helpful and contextually relevant service.

Read our guide to learn the essentials of service desk software, how it can benefit your business and how to pick the right one.

What are the responsibilities of a service desk management system?

A service desk management system helps managers oversee the daily service desk operations. By using this system, managers can ensure their employees and their customers are receiving the support they need.

Service desk management systems typically include features like:

  • Staff scheduling tools
  • Asset and vendor management
  • Budgeting
  • Process definitions

These features enable support desk managers to provide accurate information to executives and other decision-makers who influence the service operation.

Who uses service desk software?

Service desk software can be used by customer support teams as well as employees working in an internal-facing department:

  • Human resources (HR) can use a service desk to share important onboarding documents, collect employee information and signatures and facilitate training for new hires.
  • Payroll can integrate a self-service portal for employees to find payroll history, access tax forms, edit demographics, add banking information and more.
  • IT can use it for internal service requests, incident management and reporting.

How does a service desk work?

Support teams use a service desk to organise, manage, respond to and resolve requests from customers or employees. The best service desks use a ticketing system that consolidates all the details of a request in one centralised location. In response to the ticket submission, the ticketing system routes the ticket –based on workflow rules – to the appropriate resource.


In terms of a help desk vs. a service desk, the difference comes down to this: a service desk expands upon the basic capabilities of a help desk in numerous ways, through features like:

  • Automation and chatbots to deflect common questions and speed up resolution times.
  • Routing and intelligence to escalate issues to the agent best suited to help and reduce data entry.
  • Collaboration tools that enable team members to communicate effectively and work together to solve problems.
  • A ticketing system that allows agents to categorise, tag and prioritise tickets.
  • Analytics software to track metrics like ticket volume, response times and CSAT and NPS scores.
  • Self-service options – such as knowledge bases, FAQ sections, help centres and community forums – that empower users to resolve issues independently.
  • Integrations that let you connect apps and software you already use.
  • A unified view that gives agents all the context they need to help customers and employees.

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

Service desk use case: Higher customer satisfaction

A service desk can make for a great customer experience – one that builds connection and improves customer retention and loyalty. Here are a few ways it benefits customers and increases their satisfaction.

Meet customers where they are

Customers' preferred channels of communication are always changing. An omnichannel experience opens lines of communication so you can meet the customer wherever they are – whether that’s Instagram, email, SMS, voice, WhatsApp or Facebook. The interaction history moves between channels, too, so you can seamlessly continue conversations across the customer journey.

Deliver faster, more personalised support

In the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022, 68% of consumers surveyed said they want every experience with a company to be personalised. A service desk gives agents all the customer context and conversation history in a single view, allowing them to deliver personalised interactions. And thanks to simplified customer service workflows, tickets are routed to the right agents, leading to faster resolutions.

Self-service options

Customers love self-service resources, especially when they can skip the wait time for a representative and find information quickly. An AI-powered chatbot (like Answer Bot) can answer common questions, resolve basic issues and direct customers to articles in the company’s knowledge base. Customers can also use online communities to ask and respond to questions in a searchable forum.

Additional use case: Increased employee satisfaction

The best service desks keep IT operations running smoothly. Learn how the software can improve efficiency and help your team thrive.

Give employees communication options

Just like customers, employees prefer communicating on their preferred channel of choice. An omnichannel approach allows you to meet employees where they are and give them the fast, convenient support they want. Provide different communication channels – such as email, voice, Slack and an internal help centre – so employees can easily get help when they need it.

Allow employees to self-serve

Employees are often just looking for a quick answer or resolution. A centralised knowledge base, AI chatbots, help centre articles and FAQs help employees find answers and resolve issues independently. When employees solve their own problems through self-service, it eliminates a ticket that would otherwise route to the support team, freeing up agents to focus on more complicated issues.

Provide faster employee support

Features like workflow-based rules, automations, pre-filled ticket information, smart ticket routing and chatbots enable agents to be more efficient and productive.

Service desk software routes an incoming ticket request to the appropriate person, so issues are resolved faster. Agents also have full visibility into ticket submissions and histories because all the information lives in one place, allowing them to jump right in and personalise each interaction.

Increase transparency

Transparency is a key component of effective communication. It’s particularly important when it comes to providing excellent internal support.

Service desk staff should be able to track tickets as they progress toward resolution and provide updates to employees. This helps agents pick up and hand off tickets when they need to, and it reduces frustration for the employee because they’re kept in the loop.

4 types of service desks

Many different types of organisations use service desk software, and each one has unique needs. So naturally, there are different types of service desk software.

1. Open source and closed source

Closed-source service desks do not allow you to change the source code. But there are several benefits of using a closed-sourced service desk.

  • It’s more user-friendly because it’s meant to serve a wide customer base.
  • It’s more secure because only the software provider has access to the code.
  • You get support from the provider, who can help you troubleshoot issues and navigate software updates.
  • It’s customisable, with APIs, SDKs, third-party app integrations and plugins.

Open-source service desks let you make changes to the source code. However, you’ll need to have a highly skilled programmer available to manipulate the code and customise the software to suit your business needs.

2. On-premise and cloud-based help desk software

On-premise service desk software means the business hosts its data on its own on-site servers. Companies typically pick on-premise service desks when they have sensitive data and want to have control of their own data security. The customisable software can integrate with your company's current systems, but you must handle maintenance internally.

Cloud-based service desk software stores data on the cloud (ie remote servers). These servers – usually owned and managed by your software vendor or a third party – offer great benefits, especially for remote work environments. Your team can work from anywhere, and you don’t need to worry about maintaining or supporting your own data centre. This allows you to easily scale up or down based on business needs and customer demand.

3. Enterprise service desks

Enterprise service desks are usually implemented by larger organisations that tend to have more complicated needs. Unlike smaller businesses, enterprises will generally require guidance and support from the software vendor to ensure the service desk is implemented correctly. They may also want more complex customisations.

Enterprise service desks will typically have much larger user and data limits, too. They may also be priced differently – a contract for an enterprise service desk can cost several thousand dollars per month.

4. Startup service desks

Startup service desks are for smaller teams looking for support software that’s easy to use and scalable. They share many of the same features as enterprise service desks, just on a smaller scale. This type of service desk software offers a unified view to manage customer interactions in a single location, access to an online community, AI chatbots, automation, integrations and real-time analytics.

Service desk software best practices

two smiling women sitting at a desk with a laptop fist-bumping each other in the office

Follow these best practices to maximise the benefits while preventing the tickets from piling up – and giving your team a headache.

  • Create a service desk catalogue
  • Self-service options
  • Personalise the experience
  • Cultivate a service culture
  • Improves agent efficiency and productivity

  • Migrate to the cloud
  • Support customers and employees on the channels of their choice
  • Create a service desk catalogue

A service desk catalogue is a roadmap designed with the customers of the service desk in mind. You should clearly describe the services provided and write simple instructions on how to request help. Of course, the information in your catalogue will vary depending on how you structure your service desk, but a few key items to include are:

  • Catalogue item name
  • Department
  • Issue-tracking process
  • Delivery expectations
  • Point of contact for questions
  • Cost of service
  • Security and access permissions
  • Offer self-service options

More often than not, your users will need solutions to common, simple issues that don’t require help from a live agent. Providing a knowledge base or self-service portal empowers users to serve themselves and find answers on their own, even when agents are offline.

Not only does a knowledge base allow users to find the information they need without waiting for an agent, but it also reduces your agents’ workload. With fewer tickets to field, they have more time to address complex issues.

  • Collect customer feedback

Gathering feedback helps you understand what you’re doing well and what you need to work on. The most common ways to capture feedback are to send surveys (CSAT or NPS), monitor social media and analyse customer calls.

You can automate the process with service desk software: Create a trigger to automatically send a survey after an interaction ends so you can get feedback on the experience.

  • Leverage automation and chatbots

Reduce wait times and resolve more tickets with automation and chatbots. Bots can take care of common, repetitive tasks that support agents would otherwise tackle. This increases efficiency and allows agents to focus on more complicated requests. With 66% of consumers saying chatbots make their lives easier and improve their overall customer experience, it’s no wonder companies are prioritising automation and AI.

  • Track metrics

By enabling you to track helpful metrics, a service desk can give you plenty of insight into team performance, customer satisfaction, pain points and more. You can then share this information with other teams. Some key metrics to monitor include:

  • Ticket volume
  • Response time
  • Resolution time
  • Customer satisfaction ratings
  • First contact resolution
  • Support agent performance
  • Transfer rate
  • Integrate with other systems

Make sure the software you choose integrates with the systems you already use. Integrations let your team customise and automate their work environment, helping to boost productivity.

For example, connecting your service desk with communication apps (like Slack or Microsoft Teams) makes team collaboration easier. You can also integrate customer conversations with CRM software to help personalise user experiences.

  • Cultivate a service culture

Even the best service desk software can’t solve a problematic company culture. Encourage teams across the organisation to adopt a customer-centric mindset, and provide your staff with robust training to ensure they deliver high-quality support. With the right approach, your service desk will be known as a welcoming space where problems get solved, rather than a place associated with bad experiences.

  • Improves agent efficiency and productivity

Productivity and efficiency boil down to two main components: procedures and tools. Management can implement strong procedures, and a great service desk can provide the tools. These include:

  • Routing and intelligence Send tickets to the appropriate agent for quicker resolutions.
  • Omnichannel support: Engage with the customer on their channel of choice while maintaining the conversation history and customer context.
  • A unified platform See all support interactions and customer information in a single place.
  • Tracking and analytic tools Track interactions and use sales automation to enhance sales and marketing strategies with in-depth analytic tools.
  • Automation and chatbots: Give agents more time to handle complex issues with the help of automation and chatbots.
  • Apps and integrations Customise your work environment with out-of-the-box integrations that connect with your existing systems.
  • Migrate to the cloud

Business success depends on an organisation’s ability to focus its resources on initiatives with the greatest return on investment. With the rise of cloud-based service software, companies can now outsource their software maintenance to a third party and focus on their core business – with many choosing to do just that. There’s a clear preference for cloud-based software, whether it’s a service desk or a CRM.

  • Provide support across channels

Customers want fast, easy service on their favourite channels, so companies need to adapt to meet them where they are. The best service desk helps you create an ongoing conversation that you can view in one place – no matter which channels the customer uses to communicate.

How to pick the right service desk: 7 things to consider

how to pick a service desk

A service help desk collects tickets when someone calls you, texts your support number, sends you a Facebook message, emails you directly and much more. It takes all those interactions and organises them in a central location. This lets your agents do what they do best – without wasting time switching between programmes or searching through email chains. You can also use the same type of software to run an IT service desk to ensure your employees are heard and their issues get resolved.

  1. Total cost of ownership Consider any extra costs you may have to incur, including implementation costs, maintenance fees, consultants and add-ons.
  2. Time to value: A fast and easy setup, simple customisation and minimal administration can help you see a return on your investment (ROI) sooner.
  3. Omnichannel support: The system you pick should offer a breadth of communication channels and have the ability to connect conversations across channels. That way, the interaction history and context travel with the user from channel to channel.
  4. Team size and resources:How big is your team? If you don't have the budget for a team of developers, you’ll want a flexible, user-friendly platform you can use out-of-the-box.
  5. Scalability A scalable system can future-proof your customer service and internal support departments while allowing you to easily add more agents and channels. In other words, you shouldn’t have to purchase a new customer service desk system when it’s time to grow.
  6. Customisation: Your service desk should be customisable so you can tailor the software with apps and integrations to meet your business needs.
  7. Self-service portal The software should allow you to create a library of helpful content and also make it easy for users to find the resources.

Service desk software FAQs

Here are a few common questions and answers that can help you better understand service desk software and its capabilities.

See what service desk software can do for you

Are you ready to create seamless experiences for your customers and employees?

Arm your agents with a service desk that boasts custom views of incoming queries, relevant user data and convenient automation. The right software will also encourage collaboration between team members and ensure one agent isn't the sole bearer of knowledge and context behind a user's issue.

You'll soon build strong, long-lasting relationships with both customers and employees.

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The benefits of service desk software are almost unlimited. Learn more about how it can help you give your customers the best IT support:

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