What's a help desk?

Everything you've ever wanted to know about a help desk

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.


Help desk 101 topics

We'll cover basic questions like "What's a help desk" and "who's who on the help desk team" and provide background on the following topics: 

Defining "help desk"

A help desk does exactly what its name suggests: it’s there to help you when you have problems. 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 problems such as help with troublshoorting 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

A help desk should provide a single point of contact


Customers will always know where to go when they need help.

A help desk should answer questions


Customers get answers from a help desk agent or through self-service.

A help desk should help agents be productive

Help agents be productive

Agents get workflow and knowledge to answer questions efficiently. 

A help desk should measure customer satisfaction

Measure customer satisfaction

Customers have a way of rating their help desk service.

Types of help desks

Help desks come in all shapes and sizes. Some help desks could be as small as one person, while others have tiers of support, depending on the company’s size. The most common types of help desks are for IT, customer service, and business teams.

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

a help desk should centralize support requests into one place

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.

prioritize important help desk tickets

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.

help customers help themselves

Help customers help themselves

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

a help desk should monitor the health of customer support

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

A help desk provides the customer with support related to products and services.

A help desk usually includes a ticket management system, a self-service portal, communities, and forums.

Nearly every company needs a help desk, either for internal employees, external customers or both.

Service desk

A service desk uses the ITIL framework to govern how IT teams create, catalog, offer, and resolve services to customers and employees.

A service desk includes modules for incident, problem, change, knowledge and asset management.

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

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

Help desk agent

A help desk agent responds to the many help desk questions 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

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

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

Email support

Send support emails to a designated address such as support@domain.com. Those emails will then be automatically converted into tickets so agents can benefit from a structured ticketing workflow. 

knowledge base

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 help portal

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

community forums

Community forums

Forums are a place for users to ask questions and have them answered by the community

reporting and analytics

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 continuos improvement of service quality and efficiency. 

help desk automation

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

SLA management

A 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%.

help desk software 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?​

See help desk software in action

Sign up for our JIRA Service Desk demo and see what we can do for your business, no matter how big or small.

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