Malcolm Walker wonders why phone protocol is allowed to disrupt business.

I sometimes wonder whether Iceland might have done even better if we had rebranded the company as iCeland, because in recent years I have become positively addicted to almost anything promoted by the late Steve Jobs.

I am currently on my fifth iPhone. That’s not because I am particularly careless or simply must have the latest upgrade (though, if I’m honest, I do).

It’s because I keep thinking they are faulty. And while the iPhone is undoubtedly my favourite gadget, it does have one fatal weakness: it doesn’t actually work as a phone, at any rate in the UK.

I was in the Kalahari Desert last month and travelled for many miles with a full signal and perfect mobile reception. Last year I enjoyed a similarly high level of service up Kilimanjaro and even at Everest Base Camp. But my iPhone reliably loses signal five times every single day on my journey between home and the office.

It drives me mad. It often loses signal in central London, too.

My six year-old Nokia works perfectly virtually everywhere, but in technology image somehow trumps practicality every time.

Image is critical to retailers, too, but even the poshest shops cannot hope to sustain a positive profile if they don’t do their utmost to provide a customer-friendly experience.

Which is where so many business callers to my iPhone go horribly wrong, by withholding the number they are ringing me from. If I see ‘blocked number’ on the screen I don’t answer, because I don’t know who it is.

And I’m really not at all likely to call back, given that I can’t be bothered to faff around with a pen and paper writing down the half-audible number someone has probably tried to leave on my voicemail.

Journalists, lawyers and hospitals are the worst addicts. I keep asking why and they claim that they do it for ‘security’, like the idiots from banks and insurance companies who ring me up and then start asking me 20 questions to make me prove who I am, when surely the onus should be on them to prove to me who they are.

How can anyone claim to have the slightest interest in customer service if they don’t make it as easy as possible for me to call them back, or to get hold of them in the first place?

If there is one other thing that drives me mad it’s people who consider themselves so important that they have to shelter behind teams of personal assistants and customer-hostile rules. Finally you get through to someone who admits that Mr Big isn’t actually in the office at present.

“Fine, I’ll call him on his mobile. Can you just remind me of the number?”

“I’m terribly sorry, but I’m not allowed to give out that information.”

My home number has always been in the public phone book, and for years it was pinned to the notice board of every Iceland store around the country. I did not get many calls, but everyone in the business knew that they could get hold of me if they needed to.

When we announced Iceland’s latest results last month my mobile number was on the bottom of the press release, as it has been on every release we have issued for years. If you tried and failed to get through to me, it was probably because you were calling from a blocked number.

Either that, or you were foolishly trying to use an iPhone somewhere on the M56 in Cheshire.

  • Malcolm Walker is chief executive of Iceland