Working within an ITIL® framework can be confusing, especially for those new to ITIL 4 lingo. There’s a reason that IT Support is called “Service Desk”, however it’s not uncommon for team members to confuse terms such as service desk, help desk, customer service, and ITSM.

In this article, we’ll explore the four terms in more depth and parse out when to use which terminology and why.

Help Desk

The first term is “Help Desk”. Almost everyone knows that this is the term for IT Support or Help Support. You need help, so you go to the help desk. What’s wrong with this term?

Organizations who haven’t yet adopted ITIL might use the term help desk to describe their IT Support Structures, and that’s okay. However, once an organization adopts ITIL, the organization’s leadership understands that the focus is on service, delivery, and value… and so the change in nomenclature from Help Desk to Service Desk is normal and expected.

Service Desk

The Service Desk is the name for the hub between end users/customers and the IT support team. The focus of a service desk is on helping end users get the services they value, whether those services are resetting a password, provisioning new hardware or software, or fixing a critical issue.

In an “ITIL Shop”, the word service desk should always be used instead of help desk.

Customer Service

As opposed to ITIL Support via a Service Desk, Customer Service describes the group within an organization whose role is to help the external customer get more value out of their purchase. The focus is more on paying customers (such as for a SAAS product) than on the internal users within an organization who deliver the product to customers. While there might be ITIL Support help given, most of the help is about sales, billing, features, and products and not so much on IT-specific support.

That is to say, customer service tends to be external facing whereas service desk is internal facing.


ITSM is an abbreviation of IT Service Management. ITSM describes how the IT services are delivered. Axelos’ ITIL® 4 framework is one example of an ITSM. Having a guiding framework allows you to work within a proven system, use the same methodology as other organizations, and get on the same page internally.

The ITSM is the big picture framework, whereas a service desk is one component of the entire system.


Using the right terms matters, and getting everyone on the same page regarding which terms to use and why will help gain alignment elsewhere. The better your IT Support team understands ITIL ITSM, the better decisions they’ll make regarding ticket handling, documentation, and escalation.

Yes, Aptude Can Do That.

For over 20 years, Aptude has helped companies better manage their IT Support, ITSM, and legacy application support. ITIL-based support teams can ramp up in a myriad of models in as little as 2-3 weeks and will touch base as often as you need to discuss metrics and review feedback in an iterative process.

Get Tier 1 through Tier 4 IT Service Desk Agents who can help with…

ITIL® IT Support, including incidents and requests processing for a variety of applications

IT and Non-IT related Service Desk Initiatives Support via multiple languages including: English, Spanish, or Portuguese

Production Support and Application Maintenance – corrective maintenance, bug fixes, production support, and coordination among Levels (internally or externally)

Production Enhancements – adding new functionality such as integrations, interfaces, applications, and reports


*ITIL® is a registered trade mark of AXELOS Limited.