ITSM - IT Service Management / article

Why help desk and help desk software?

So, you're thinking about a help desk. You've researched, but you still have questions. Consider this your one-stop-shop for all things help desk. We hope this is a valuable resource for help desk newbies as well as those of you ready to level up your support.

Defining "help desk"

A help desk does exactly what its name suggests: it’s there to help you when problems arrive. Typically those are of a technical nature; you need someone to troubleshoot the printer or help you get access to a new system. Every day we rely on help desks to solve user issues such as help with troubleshooting our mobile phone or disputing a credit card bill.

A help desk is the first point of contact for customers and employees alike. Customers need answers and the help desk is where they turn to.

A help desk should perform several functions

  • Provide a single point of contact. Customers will always know where to go when they need help via a user portal.
  • Answer questions. Customers get answers from a help desk agent or through self-service.
  • Help an agent be more productive. Agents get workflow and knowledge to answer customer issues efficiently. 
  • Measure customer satisfaction. Customers have a way of rating their help desk service.

Types of help desks

  • IT support help desk: An IT help desk ensures internal staff is supported, and their problems are solved, whether it be a password reset or the whole network going down.
  • Customer service help desk: A customer service help desk focuses on external customers who might have questions regarding the products and services they buy from your company.
  • Business help desk: Teams outside of IT like HR, finance and legal can adopt a business help desk. HR can help employees modify payroll elections or get employment verification letters. Legal can respond to contract review requests while finance can field accounts payable or expense questions.

Top 4 reasons why your company needs a help desk

1. Email is a lousy tool for tracking work

If every request becomes a string of emails, your agents will struggle to prioritize and respond to each request. Move the conversation from the inbox to organized help desk queues.

2. Help customers help themselves

A help desk offers ways for customers to self-serve common questions through an FAQ or a knowledge base. 

3. Prioritize important tickets

Rather than using ad hoc solutions like calendar reminders, sticky notes, or relying on email, a help desk defines ticket priorities and requirements for resolution times.

4. Monitor the health of customer support

A help desk tracks metrics like ticket volume, resolution time, customer satisfaction, even individual agent performance. 

Help desk vs. service desk: what's the difference?

Help desk

Service desk

A help desk provides the customer with support related to products and services A service desk uses the ITIL framework to govern how IT teams create, catalog, offer, and resolve services to customers and employees.
A help desk usually includes a ticket management system, a self-service portal, communities, and forums. A service desk includes modules for incident, problem, change, knowledge and asset management.
Nearly every company needs a help desk, either for internal employees, external customers or both. Companies looking to provide more structured IT support typically need a service desk. Most service desk software can be used as a help desk.

Who's who on the help desk team?

  • Help desk manager: A help desk manager leads the day-to-day operations of the help desk. This includes hiring and training agents, structuring support processes, and tracking key performance metrics such as agent productivity and customer satisfaction. A help desk manager will typically be responsible for managing the overall budget and reporting on performance to the executive team. 
  • Help desk agent: A help desk agent responds to the many help desk questions such as hardware issues that come over the phone, email or through the help desk portal. They also update the knowledge base and look for ways to coach and spread technical expertise. Depending on the size of the company, agents can be split into two tiers based on support experience.
  • Help desk team lead: The help desk team lead supports the help desk manager by coaching new agents, ensuring everyone delivers great customer service, and meets their Service Level Agreements (SLA) goals. A team lead also monitors performance and provides feedback to managers for improving support processes.

What's help desk software?

When businesses start out, they rely on email for support. As companies grow, moving beyond email as the primary support channel becomes critical. Your support needs to scale with your business. If agents are struggling to keep up with requests and inboxes are stacked with unanswered emails - it might be time for help desk software.

Help desk software provides capabilities to accept, track and respond to support requests in an organized fashion. In addition, many software vendors provide capabilities such as a knowledge base, a self-service portal, SLA management and reporting. Choosing the right help desk software depends on your company needs.

How much does help desk software cost?

The price of help desk software depends on company size, the size of your team, and what your business needs. Typically, the cost of help desk software is calculated by how many agents are resolving tickets. Help desk software can cost anywhere from nothing to thousands of dollars per month. Some companies offer basic help desk for free, while others offer enterprise-level, customizable solutions – again it all depends on what you’re looking for in your help desk.

Popular help desk software features

  • Email support. Send support emails to a designated address such as Those emails will then be automatically converted into tickets so agents can benefit from a structured ticketing workflow. 
  • Knowledge base. A knowledge base is a store of common answers and useful articles such as 'how to’s' or best practices. It provides a self-service experience that can improve customer satisfaction and reduce support requests.
  • Self-service portal. The self-service portal is an intuitive place to submit questions in the form of help desk tickets or get immediate answers via the knowledge base. Think of it as a user portal for issues help.
  • Community forums. Forums are a place for users to ask questions and have them answered by the community.
  • Reporting and analytics. Help desk software reporting features allow for companies to track key metrics such as agent productivity, customer satisfaction, and support costs. Detailed analytics allow for continuous improvement of service quality and efficiency. 
  • Help desk automation. Help desk software can automate common tasks to free up agent time while keeping actions consistent. Automation can close an inactive ticket or alert a manager when a new P1 issue is created.
  • SLA management.  Service Level Agreement is a contract between your help desk agent and the customer defining the service level expected such as time to first response or time to resolution. SLAs can also be quality based, such as ensuring customer satisfaction stays above 90%.
  • Customization. For many companies, branding is important. Most help desk software allow companies to customize their help desk so that it carries the company colors and logo. You can also build custom integrations on top of the help desk to extend your help desk software functionality.

Getting started with help desk software

You've got options when it comes to choosing the right help desk software. Consider using this checklist as you evaluate help desk software solutions:

Which channels do you need to offer support (web, email, social, mobile etc.)?
How many agents will use the help desk?
Does your company need a self-service solution?
Does your company need automation of repetitive help desk tasks?
What depth of reporting does your help desk team need?
What are your timeline and budget for help desk software?
How many resources will your company invest in a help desk software setup?​

How to implement help desk software?

STEP 1: Get buy-in

  • Define your help desk goals
  • Research the benefits of implementing help desk software
  • Get buy-in from management

STEP 2: Map processes & workflows

  • Identify processes with IT staff’s roles and capabilities in mind
  • Build workflows to drive those processes
  • Define help desk metrics

STEP 3: Install & set up your solution

  • Install help desk software
  • Import contacts, user information and other assets
  • Add your IT users and admins
  • Define ticket categories and issue types
  • Set up queues and automation rules
  • Edit email templates and define filters 

STEP 4: Add advanced configurations

  • Integrate help desk software with other applications
  • Import your documentation into the help desk’s knowledge base
  • Define your SLAs
  • Set up reports and notifications
  • Configure approval workflows

See help desk software in action

Sign up for our Jira Service Desk demo and see what help desk software can do for your business, no matter how big or small.

Sign up for a demo