NEW YORK — Saks Fifth Avenue has formed a customer relationship management division and has hired Rob Rosenblatt, a former American Express executive, as senior vice president to run the new unit.

Saks also signed Teradata as its provider of support systems for customer relationship management, commonly called CRM.

These are the latest steps in Saks Fifth Avenue’s intensified attempts over the past four years to get cozier with customers, determine their needs and get them to shop the store more often. The company has been conducting extensive “qualitative and quantitative” consumer research, as well as focus groups and Gallup surveys, to improve service and enhance loyalty programs. It has also built up a data warehouse.

“CRM is the single most important initiative we have at the company as a means of growing and insuring our vitality,” Sheri Wilson-Gray, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, said in an exclusive interview with WWD Thursday. “We want to understand the needs of our customers and make sure we are meeting them.”

As a result of the previous efforts, “I think we have a good handle on our target and best customers,” Wilson-Gray said. “We are now beginning to manifest the structure and organization that supports our research. We know that service is of paramount importance to our customers. They expect Saks to have great merchandise, but the tiebreaker is great service.”

She said the objective of the new division would be to devise new methods of providing service, involving “all points that touch customers” whether that’s direct mail, catalogs, e-mail, advertising, the store experience or in-store sales help. “We know that there are opportunities to better align our marketing approach,” she said. “How we reach out and respond based on what customers individually want — that’s the big journey. It’s the ‘individualization’ of it. We think we are on the path, but it would be misleading to say we have arrived.”

The CRM unit will have 14 employees on board, reporting to Rosenblatt. Some are being tapped from inside Saks, including Elizabeth Preis, vice president of direct marketing responsible for loyalty and targeted marketing programs, and Robert Schroko, vice president of database marketing.However, Wilson-Gray stressed that executives across the company, in merchandising, marketing, information systems, stores and dot-com, will be involved in the initiative and will also report to Rosenblatt, who reports to Wilson-Gray. “It is an enterprise-wide idea,” she added.

Rosenblatt has experience creating value-added credit card products, emphasizing loyalty-rewards, as senior vice president of travel industries at American Express TRS Co. and as chief operating officer of Virgin Money, an arm of Virgin USA that develops financial service products. Rosenblatt most recently ran IFormation Group, a firm that partners with Global 2000 companies to build and accelerate new businesses. Rosenblatt will also be a member of Saks Fifth Avenue’s operating committee.

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