Five Star Senior Living has become the first organization to commit to a new community certification program that one industry expert says could “take the industry to its next level.”

Costa Mesa, CA-based marketing data and analytics company J.D. Power unveiled its Senior Living Community Certification Program on Tuesday, saying it is designed to recognize individual independent living, assisted living and memory care communities that provide “exceptional customer service.”

Rob Poyas, Five Star’s vice president of sales and marketing, told McKnight’s Senior Living that the company’s participation in the program reflects its top priority, resident satisfaction.

“J.D. Power is a trusted name with our customers and their families, and this is the first industry-wide benchmarking tool that measures resident satisfaction,” he said. “Five Star Senior Living is proud to lead the way as we begin to certify our communities and ensure that our residents receive the best possible experience.”

Five Star, based in Newton, MA, operates more than 280 communities across 32 states, according to its website.

To qualify for certification, individual senior living communities must rank in the top 20% in overall customer satisfaction as defined by the J.D. Power Senior Living Satisfaction Study, which the company introduced earlier this year. The company will capture assessments of community performance across 17 performance metrics and 14 performance indicators from residents or their representatives.

“Communities undertaking certification will provide J.D. Power will email addresses of residents and decision-makers to be used for the research,” Greg Truex, senior director of the healthcare practice at J.D. Power, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “The survey instrument will be administered by J.D. Power, co-branded with the community and sent via email. The approximately 21 questions in the instrument have been determined by J.D. Power, measuring the ‘voice of the customer,’ to be representative of the entire resident experience.”

Brands also must pass an evaluation of 140 operational best practices developed by J.D. Power and Andrew Carle, president of Carle Consulting and adjunct professor and founding director of the Program in Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA. The best practices relate to community mission, culture and structure; licensing and safety; community staff; resident relations; resident services; sales, marketing and move-in coordination; and other factors.

“J.D. Power will conduct a one-day, on-site audit at the community,” Truex said. Communities will be able to provide information related to some of the best practices — for instance, whether the executive director has an undergraduate degree or six years or senior living experience — in advance, he said. Other criteria, however, will need to be reviewed on-site, Truex said. This could include, for example, whether the community has emergency supplies for its staff and residents in the event of a natural disaster.

Once certified, the community will receive a certification icon and will have the option to promote the achievement for 12 months through online marketing collateral and in-community displays.

Carle told McKnight’s Senior Living that the certification program could affect the senior living industry in three ways.

“First, it represents an opportunity to meet the needs of consumers, who have become increasingly reliant on utilizing data in their purchase decisions,” he said. “Second, it’s an opportunity for providers who have been delivering on the customer experience at a high level to differentiate themselves in what can otherwise appear to be similar same market communities — with the industry at eight-year lows in occupancy, a pretty important competitive advantage. But perhaps the most important effect will be in the opportunity to take the industry to its next level, by documenting and elevating the resident experience in measurable ways, which goes to the heart of the industry’s mission and philosophy.”

The U.S. senior living industry now serves more than 1 million residents in more than 40,000 independent, assisted living and memory care communities nationwide, Carle noted.