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Tales from the tech help desk

CIOs recount some of the strangest requests

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"I want to spy on my kids by getting into their text messages and phone calls. Can you help?" Just a sample of the wacko requests tech help desk operators receive, according to a Robert Half Technology survey. "I want to spy on my kids by getting into their text messages and phone calls. Can you help?" Just a sample of the wacko requests tech help desk operators receive, according to a Robert Half Technology survey.

Technology is great, but it’s worth it once in a while to restate the obvious: It’s connected to human beings.

So have pity, at least once in a while, on tech help desk employees.

Here’s a real sample:

“Are you running your computer under Windows?"

"No, it's by the door!"

This is not the punch line from a movie, but a real conversation with a help desk professional.

Recently, Robert Half Technology took a look at the lighter side of technical travails by asking chief information officers about the strangest or most unusual requests their help desk or technical support team has ever received.

From social media struggles to cleaning conundrums, the responses show the diversity of inquiries to which help desk professionals must respond.

These first responses show that not all end users have the same base knowledge. Some may need a "Tech 101" refresher course:

• "Can I have the number to the 'worldwide Internet'?"

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• "Is it OK if I use correction fluid on my monitor?"

• "My cup holder broke, and I need a replacement." (It turns out that the end user thought the CD drive was a cup holder.)

• "Every time I try to print, my computer says it cannot find the printer. I even put the printer right in front of the computer, and the computer still couldn't see it."

Help desk or private investigators? The lines were blurred for these next end users:

• "I want to spy on my kids by getting into their text messages and phone calls. Can you help?"

• "Can you hack into my boyfriend's Facebook page?"

• "Can you put a tracking device on my daughter's tablet?"

The Internet of Things may cause some mystification in the workplace, as these next responses show:

• "Can I turn on my slow cooker from another location by computer or tablet?"

• "Can you connect my mobile devices to my kitchen appliances?"

Some requests extend beyond the help desk call of duty:

• "I need to have the cat hair cleaned out of my computer fan."

• "I am locked in the bathroom. Can you help get me out?"

• "Will you build me a robot?"

And then there was this last anecdote, which shows just how "hairy" a help desk job can be:

• "The caller said he had a dead mouse. I dispatched a technician and was waiting to be told what type of mouse, but it turned out it was a real dead mouse."

"These requests, though humorous, illustrate the combination of technical and interpersonal skills that are needed to be a successful help desk professional," says John Reed, executive director of Robert Half Technology. "For many employers, personality, communication skills and a customer service mindset are as important as technical expertise when it comes to hiring. Businesses sometimes find they can more easily teach the technical aspect of the job than help someone acquire the soft skills needed to interact effectively with end users."

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