Clearing Up Some Longstanding Confusion
It’s easy to get call centers and IT help desks mixed up. After all, both answer the phone to help solve problems. It is true that the line delineating a call centers from an IT help desk is rather blurry, but there are some notable differences.
Call centers typically have more general duties, often deal with people outside the business or organization, and may make outbound calls. Help desks usually work internally to a business, helping other employees solve technical problems so that they can do their work.
Call centers may or may not depend on employee technical skills, but IT help desks require workers with specific technical skills. Good call centers and good help desks borrow best practices from each other, and both require a certain level of “people skills,” but when it comes to what they do on an day-to-day basis, there are some basic differences between call centers and help desks.
Introducing New Confusion
The ITIL framework specifies that the term “service desk” is better than “help desk” because it puts the focus on services. But in everyday life, organizations calling themselves help desks or service desks may have very similar setups and obligations. As of 2012, the term “service desk” is starting to be used slightly more than “help desk,” though many people and organizations use the terms interchangeably.
Furthermore, many companies have both a call center and an IT help desk. A software company may have a call center for helping customers and a help desk that employees use for their own computer problems. In some cases, companies with call centers will escalate a problem to the IT help desk when they are unable to find answers within the knowledge base that they use for answering caller problems.
What is a Call Center?
Call centers often deal with calls coming from outside the business. For example, a company that makes consumer software will have a call center that people who bought that software can call in order to get help with it. While these call centers do deal with some technical issues, call center workers are generally working with a finite, known, scripted pool of knowledge. They’re a resource for answers and the exchange of information, providing more general help. In many cases, call centers are thought of as revenue centers for businesses, because they may sell upgrades or they may make outbound calls; for example, trying to get customers to try a new product.
What is an IT Help Desk?
The IT help desk is typically internal to a company. Employees call the IT help desk when they have a problem with their computer, software, or peripherals, or when they need to obtain or replace these items. One of the main things that differentiates help desks from call centers is that help desks provide diagnostic help. When call centers provide troubleshooting, it is generally through pre-scripted answers. Help desks deal with multiple types of computer problems and function as a hub for all things computer-related in an organization. If, for example, someone in accounting experiences difficulty opening a spreadsheet program, he or she would call their employer’s IT help desk rather than the software vendor.
Though some organizations decry the help desk as a cost center, most are coming around to the idea that if employee computers and software don’t work, productivity falls and it ultimately costs more than what it costs to have a help desk. IT help desks with solid asset management software also keep companies from spending on problems that are covered by warranties, and they can help avoid fines and charges that result from using software with expired licenses.
Good Software Is Essential to the Success of Both
Call centers and help desks both require reliable, up-to-date software to function well. That’s why so many companies are choosing software as a service (SaaS) solutions for running their call centers and help desks. In some cases, good help desk software provides a framework that could be used by a call center or by a help desk, or by both in the same organization. Features like user self-service portals, automatic knowledge base building, and automatic tagging of help tickets are very useful, both in a call center helping external customers and in the IT help desk that keeps employee hardware and software functioning properly.
About Kyle Shepard
Kyle is a Senior Manager of the Customer Success team for ITSM at SolarWinds. He works directly with customers to provide ongoing support in service management strategy for their evolving goals. He speaks on webinars and other educational resources in ITSM. He also played college lacrosse.
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