Virgin Group enters Britain's gadget help market

LONDON (Reuters) - Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has launched a company to help consumers with technical problems such as PCs crashing, wireless networks not connecting and games consoles refusing to link up with other gear.

The group’s first new UK company in three years offers free online self-help guides such as “speed up” to make computers go faster, or “get connected” to fix links to printers or wireless networks (

It has a wider range of automated fixes and anti-virus software for 2.99 pounds ($4.85) per month and custom services costing up to 90 pounds for a home visit.

Virgin Digital Help, launched on Wednesday, will compete with a handful of firms in Britain, the best known of which are the slightly more expensive Geek Squad ( and the three-year-old Gadget Helpline.

“It’s a market that’s very much underserved,” Joe Steel, chief executive of the new company, told Reuters by telephone.

“People now have real emotional connections with their gadgets. When they don’t work or when they don’t connect to each other properly, we just feel lost.”

The Gadget Helpline’s managing director Crispin Thomas disputed that the market was underserved. “I can’t understand how an innovative company like Virgin have come into a market so late,” he said. “We’ve just taken our millionth call.”

Like Virgin Mobile, which depended on a partnership with Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile in Britain, Virgin Digital Help is also built on a partnership -- with technology services company Sutherland Global Services.

Sutherland, which has 24,000 employees around the world and is based in New York state, will field an initial team of about 100 call-center workers in the Philippines to handle queries and will have available about 20 to 30 of its engineers in Britain for home visits over the busy Christmas period.

Virgin also on Wednesday released results of a survey of 2,000 consumers, which showed that 78 percent of British people would consider spending two hours trying to fix a gadget themselves instead of spending 20 minutes on the phone with customer service.

It also found that 46 percent of people were afraid to try new technology and half of those surveyed agreed that if their Internet connection went down it would be like being lost in the middle of the desert.

The Virgin venture capital organization comprises more than 200 branded companies worldwide, including Virgin Mobile, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Trains, Virgin Money and the Virgin Active health club chain. It had revenue of $17 billion in 2008.

Cable operator Virgin Media, a separate listed company, is fighting to improve its poor customer service record while Virgin Mobile has won customer service awards.

(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; editing by Sharon Lindores and Karen Foster)

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