Is There Really a Difference Between Help Desk and IT Support?

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Although IT help desk services and IT support services may seem like the same thing, there are useful differences worth exploring and understanding to get the most out of your IT budget.  Your IT infrastructure is built on a wide array of components that need to work together cohesively to achieve optimal performance. And to support that infrastructure efficiently, a variety of IT services are required. Let’s compare two of the core components of a highly functional IT support model and highlight the differences and connections between them. 

IT Support vs. Help Desk: Which Do You Need?

While some organizations may use the terms help desk and IT support (or tech support) interchangeably, the two functions have distinct differences

A help desk is primarily a reactive service: technicians answer support calls or emails and troubleshoot technical issues “on-demand”. And, although IT support can also provide reactive support when needed, it is primarily intended to develop and implement proactive solutions to tough IT challenges, reducing inefficiency and technical debt and supporting business productivity and growth. 

It is important to note that although these may represent different roles in the IT hierarchy, they do not always represent different personnel. While IT support tasks are usually considered to be more technically complex, IT support personnel may also spend time on the help desk as needed.


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Help Desk

The help desk manages incidents. Help desk personnel are end-user-facing and often the first point of contact between a Managed Service Provider (MSP) and the end-user. The main focus of the help desk is to provide effective customer service by fixing problems quickly, effectively, and pleasantly.

What Does the Help Desk Do?

As stated previously, the help desk is a reactive service. It’s who you call when something breaks.

Help desk support agents assist with fixing relatively straightforward user issues, answering ‘how-to’ questions, and providing technical guidance. They also provide a critical bridge for the escalation and tracking of more complex issues to senior specialists.

In addition, the help desk acts as a centralized point of communication for all support tickets, phone calls, and emails.  By having all communications funnel through one point-of-contact, a company can keep support tickets well organized, make workflows more efficient for the help desk and make the support experience a more positive one for end-users. 

IT Support

Helpdesk vs. IT Support

IT support engineers focus on long-term planning, preventative maintenance, and addressing more complex IT challenges throughout the infrastructure. These engineers are experts in their field and focus on continuous improvement of your infrastructure to make it more reliable, scalable, and secure. 

What Does IT Support Do?

IT support specialists take a more holistic view of your infrastructure. They review and analyze system configurations and logs on a regular basis and take proactive maintenance measures as needed. They are also responsible for handling escalations from the help desk and performing IT tasks beyond the scope of the help desk. This can include everything from system analysis and upgrades to solving thorny technical problems or planning major strategic IT initiatives. Generally speaking, an IT Support Engineer:

  • Is experienced in numerous disciplines and an SME in at least one area or system.
  • Demonstrates extremely high levels of technical knowledge, ingenuity, and creativity.
  • Develops and applies advanced technologies, engineering principles, and concepts.
  • Provides senior-level direction to less experienced personnel.

The IT support team improves the efficiency of the entire IT organization and lessens the strain on the help desk by finding and resolving the root causes of recurring problems, reducing overall technical debt, and designing systems that are robust, scalable, and supportable.

Differences Between IT Support and Help Desk Support

Help desk support and IT support overlap at times, as they both handle IT issues that come their way. But the roles differ in their method and purpose.

1. Different Goals

The help desk is end-user-centric, meaning their primary goal is to provide support to end-users in the quickest, most efficient manner possible. Users typically contact the help desk when a problem appears that keeps them from completing their daily tasks. The help desk is designed to answer all communications and get users back to work as quickly as possible. 

Your IT support engineers also work as quickly and efficiently as possible, – but their primary goal is to identify why problems happen and to find solutions that fix those problems at a more strategic level. In some cases, IT support is concerned with remediating complex issues that are escalated from the help desk. But, in general, their focus is on meeting the long-term IT needs of the company.

IT Support and Help Desk Support

2. Different Listening Styles

Since help desk agents are the first line of communication, they must play an empathetic, customer support role and reassure users that their problems are understood and being actively addressed. Their main goal is to evaluate problems quickly and properly and to follow them through to resolution (and to the customer’s satisfaction).

IT support, on the other hand,  is more interested in fixing critical systemic issues or planning strategic IT initiatives than offering reassurances to individual end-users. When IT support engineers are involved in escalations of specific user issues, the help desk often assists by maintaining direct communications with the customer through resolution.

3. Different Approach to Problem Solving

Help desk support technicians must have a broad understanding of IT and specific knowledge about each customer’s environment in order to help with routine end-user problems. Their broad knowledge base makes them ideal for evaluating and organizing trouble tickets and handling end-user requests without necessarily having in-depth technical skills across multiple IT disciplines. 

In contrast, an IT support department is usually organized into specific technical disciplines such as systems, networking, cybersecurity, cloud services, etc. – because not all engineers can be SMEs in every category. These more senior, more specialized engineers will handle complex strategic projects as well as any service tickets assigned to them or escalations from the Help Desk for their particular areas of expertise.

IT Help Desk and IT Support Functions are Both Important to Maintaining an Efficient IT Infrastructure

Your IT infrastructure is critical to your business operations. To ensure optimal efficiency, you need both front-line personnel who focus strictly on day-to-day technical issues in real-time (help desk) and an IT department that can focus on resolving more complex issues and developing longer-term strategic plans to support business growth. 

How to: Hiring vs. Outsourcing

Many companies feel like they must have IT resources on staff. But attracting and keeping a broad range of IT talent on staff is difficult and expensive. And having deep expertise in every critical technical discipline is nearly impossible for all except the largest companies.

For more and more companies, the best and most cost-effective way to build a robust IT support team is to partner with a trusted managed services provider (MSP) who is focused on engineering excellence across a wide range of disciplines and is dedicated to customer service. This model provides a way for companies to get access to an entire team of IT experts when they need them, without having to pay for all of them all the time


Support Your IT, Support Your Team 


ITSco: A One-Stop IT Shop

For more than 25 years, ITSco has built a reputation based on providing a full range of advanced IT services at fair prices. One secret to our success is our ability to attract and retain some of the best IT talents in North Carolina. And we do that by offering a satisfying work environment that is focused on long-term customer satisfaction.

 It turns out that talented people enjoy working for a company that wants to do good things for its clients. And that is what has helped make ITSco one of the most trusted IT firms in the Triangle, the Triad, and across North Carolina.

When you partner with us, you get a full-service IT department – from well-trained and helpful front-line service desk personnel (help desk) to experienced senior IT engineers (IT support) and architects, technical project managers, and executive-level IT managers.  

Learn more about how our talented team can support your Information Technology needs.

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