Assessing the Impact of Service Quality Attributes on Customer Satisfaction: A Case of Private Golf Courses in South Korea

Author: Boyun Woo*

*Corresponding Author:
Boyun Woo
Associate Professor
Endicott College
School of Sport Science
376 Hale Street
Beverly, MA 01915
Phone: 978-335-9966
Email: bwoo@endicott.edu

ABSTRACT
Responding to a highly competitive golf course environment in South Korea, it is important to investigate factors that influence customer satisfaction that will lead to a revisit. The purpose of the study was to examine the influence of different service quality attributes on customer satisfaction among golf courses in South Korea. Service quality attributes included in this study were website reservation system, caddy competency, accessibility, physical environment, cost, course difficulty, and employee service. Data was collected from 609 recreational golfers who played golf in 12 private golf courses across South Korea. The results of multiple regression analysis showed that all the service quality attributes together, with an exception of convenience of website reservation system, explained 40.5% of the variance in customer satisfaction. In terms of the individual attributes of the service quality, caddy competency had the greatest influence on customer satisfaction followed by accessibility, physical environment, cost, course difficulty, and employee service. The findings suggest golf course managers on what service quality attributes they need to focus on in order to satisfy customers.

Keywords: service quality, customer satisfaction, golf, South Korea

INTRODUCTION
As golf has gained its popularity in South Korea, the number of golf participants has increased greatly over the years. Korea Golf Course Business Association (2013) reported that the number of golfers has increased from 11,169,522 to 18,250,345 between 2002 and 2012. Reflecting the increased popularity, the number of golf courses has also increased dramatically. However, the number of golf courses has been outgrowing the increase of the participants, resulting in a high competition among the golf courses for customers. Subsequently, this resulted in many golf courses going through a financial hardship. In 2016, it was reported that 49% of the golf courses in South Korea did not make any profit and 77% of those unprofitable golf courses have not been able to pay local taxes for a long term due to financial difficulties (Korea Golf Course Business Association, 2016). Therefore, it has become more important than ever for golf course managers to identify factors that could recruit customers and retain them for the long term.

According to Shonk and Chelladurai (2008), satisfied customers are one of the competitive advantages service organizations have. The notion is that satisfied customers are more likely to reuse the service and it directly contributes to the revenue of the service organizations. In fact, customer satisfaction in service organizations is vital in order to retain customers. In a service industry setting, many scholars investigated satisfaction as one of the most important factors that lead to a revisit. In addition, service quality has been studied much as an antecedent of customer satisfaction. According to Zeithaml and Bitner (1996), the constructs of service quality and customer service are inseparable due to a strong association between them.

Service Quality
One of the important factors that influence customer’s intention to revisit the golf course is the quality of service. Service quality is defined as “difference between what is expected from each of the service dimensions and what a consumer perceives he or she receives from them” (MacKay & Crompton, 1988, p.46). According to Parasuraman, Zeithaml, & Berry (1985), service quality is determined by “a comparison of consumer expectations with actual service performance” (p.42). Therefore, if customers’ expectations are greater than service performance an organization provides, dissatisfaction occurs. On the other hand, if service performance exceeds customers’ expectations, customers perceive service quality as high and it results in satisfaction (Parasuraman et al., 1985). Previous studies suggest that customers’ perceived service quality is significantly associated with customer satisfaction, which in turn leads to the customers’ revisit intention (Baker & Crompton, 2000; Greenwell, Fink, & Pastore, 2002; Shonk & Chelladurai, 2008; Woo, 2004). In addition, researchers have found a positive impact of service quality on profitability (Gronroos, 1990) and customer loyalty (Cronin, Brady, & Hult, 2000).

Attributes of Service Quality
According to Chelladurai and Chang (2000), customers evaluate multiple aspects when they evaluate service quality for service providers. Despite the importance of service quality to survival and success of businesses, measuring service quality has always been a difficult task due to unique characteristics of service (Douglas & Connor, 2003). Although a major framework for service quality, such as SERVQUAL model, exists, consensus can never be reached because service environment of each industry is different (Taylor, Sharland, Cronin, & Bullard, 1993.) As a result, many researchers have attempted to develop service quality dimensions and measurement for a given context. For example, Langeard, Bateson, Lovelock, & Eiglier (1981) suggested three components of service customers evaluate, which include the inanimate environment, service personnel, and a bundle of service benefits. On the other hand, Parasuraman, Zeithaml, & Berry’s (1988) SERVQUAL model proposed that service quality is evaluated by five dimensions of tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance, and empathy. Later, Dabholkar, Thorpe, and Rentz (1996) conceptualized service quality as having three dimensions comprised of physical aspects, reliability, and personal interactions. Similarly, Brady and Cronin (2001) argued that service quality is perceived by physical environment quality, interaction quality, and outcome quality.

According to Parasuraman et al. (1985), the common areas of service quality could be applied in various service organizational settings regardless of the industry each organization falls under. However, although some of the underlying dimensions may be common across service industries, researchers agree that specific dimensions that determine service quality are different based on the industry because each service industry faces different service environments (Cronin & Taylor, 1992; Kang & James 2004). As a result, many researchers have developed dimensions and scales specific to a service organizational setting they are investigating. For instance, in a participant sport setting, Ko & Pastore (2004) conceptualized four dimensions of service quality consisting of program quality, interaction quality, outcome quality, and physical environment in a recreational sport setting. In addition, in order to measure service quality spectators evaluate when they attend a sporting event, Koo & Hardin (2009) proposed three dimensions derived from Gronroos (1984) work and Bitner’s (1992) servicecape: functional, technical, and environmental attributes. Addressing inadequate measure of service quality in the previous studies, Yoshida & James (2011) further included aesthetic, technical, and functional qualities of service quality in a spectating sport setting. In a sport tourism context, Shonk & Chelladurai (2008) proposed four component model including access quality, accommodation quality, value quality, and contest quality.

A limited number of studies also developed dimensions and scales for golf courses. For example, Crilley, Murray, Howat, March, & Adamson (2002) suggested that the service quality of golf courses comprised of staff responsiveness, appearance of the facilities, course quality, customer behavior and etiquette, and value for money in Australia. In a Korean golf course environment, Woo (2004) argued that service quality should be categorized based on both customers’ perspective and service providers’ perspective and proposed the dimensions of employee service, amenities, course quality, operation system, and accessibility. More recently, Cho, Yeo, and Kim (2010) recognized inadequacy of capturing golf course service quality using previous dimensions and scales in South Korea. Addressing this issue, Cho et al. (2010) proposed seven service quality attributes suitable for Korean golf courses reflecting both tangible and intangible services. These attributes were composed of convenience of website reservation system, accessibility, course difficulty, cost, physical environment, caddy competency, and employee service.

Service Quality and Customer Satisfaction
Customer satisfaction has been defined in over 20 different ways in the past literature (Giese & Cote, 2002). However, the common ground exists across the definitions. That is, satisfaction is viewed from a disconfirmation approach and it is explained as a function of customers’ expectations before purchase and perception of service performance after purchase (Oliver, 1993). Bitner and Hubert (1994) claimed that satisfaction comes from two sources in a service organization setting: a discrete service encounter and an aggregate experience. A discrete service encounter indicates an interaction between customer and service provider in a specific situation whereas an aggregate experience refers to overall experience customers have with the service provider during their customer lifetime (Bitner & Hubert, 1994). These two sources combined together formulate an individual’s overall satisfaction level. In fact, researchers argue that an individual’s overall perceived service quality is linked to the overall satisfaction (Bitner & Hubert, 1994).

The constructs of service quality and satisfaction are viewed as inseparable (Parasuraman et al., 1985). A positive association between service quality and customer satisfaction has been well established in the previous literature. The notion is that when service organizations provide quality service that meets or exceeds customers’ expectations, customer satisfaction is achieved (Rust, Zahorik, & Keiningham, 1995). Such a strong relationship has been supported in various sport service settings including sport tourism (Shonk & Chelladurai, 2008), fitness centers (Yu et al., 2014), recreational sport (Ko & Pastore, 2007; Shonk, Carr, & De Michele, 2010), and spectating sport (Koo & Hardin, 2009).

Following the previous theoretical framework, the purpose of the current study was to examine the influence of service quality on customer satisfaction among golf participants in South Korea and to determine which attributes of the service quality have the most impact on customer satisfaction. In particular, seven attributes suggested by Cho et al. (2010) were used to determine significant attributes of service quality among golf courses in South Korea.

METHODS
Participants
The target population for this study was recreational golfers in South Korea. The participants were recruited from 12 private golf courses in South Korea. The researcher conveniently selected a number of golf courses which are run on a membership basis. With the cooperation of those golf courses, the survey was administered on site. The participants were informed about the purpose of the study and invited to participate in the survey on a voluntary basis. Total 609 participants completed the questionnaire. Of the participants 496 (81.4%) were male and 112 (18.4%) were female. In addition, the age groups most participants fell under were 40-49 (282, 46.3%), 30-39 (152, 25.0%), and 50-59 (118, 19.4%). The monthly income of 234 participants (38.4%) was over $3,000 and less than $6,000 and 205 participants’ (33.7%) had the monthly income of greater than $6,000 and less than $10,000.

Measurement
Data was collected using self-reported measurement scales. Service quality was measured by a 21-item scale developed by Cho et al. (2010). The attributes and items in this scale were specifically developed for Korean golf courses reflecting the golf environment in South Korea. Seven service quality dimensions included in the questionnaire are convenience of website reservation system (2 items), accessibility (2 items), course difficulty (4 items), cost (2 items), physical environment (3 items), caddy competency (3 items), and employee service (5 items). Customer satisfaction was measured using a 3-item scale developed by Oliver (1993). Construct reliability, internal consistency, and discriminant validity of those scales have been well established in previous studies. Participants were asked to rate each item on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Questions regarding demographic information, such as gender, age, and monthly income were also included in the questionnaire.

Data Analysis
The data was analyzed using SPSS 22.0. First, descriptive statistics were computed to capture demographic characteristics of study participants. Then, reliability and validity of the measurement were analyzed using Cronbach’s alpha and the correlation between the study variables. Once validity and reliability were established, composite mean scores on the scales were calculated. The mean scores and standard deviations were calculated using SPSS 22.0. Lastly, multiple regression analysis was conducted to capture the significant attributes influencing customer satisfaction.

RESULTS
Measurement Reliability and Validity
Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for the subscales were calculated to determine the internal consistency of the scales. Alpha coefficients for convenience of website reservation system, accessibility, course difficulty, cost, physical environment, caddy competency, employee service, and customer satisfaction were .79, .88, .74, .73, .84, .88, .92, and .92, respectively satisfying the recommended values of .70 by Nunnally & Bernstein (1994). According to Nunnally & Bernstein (1994), values greater than .70 are assumed to be adequate. Discriminant validity was established by examining correlation analysis among the constructs. Constructs are considered as lacking discriminant validity if their correlation is higher than .85 (Kline, 2005). None of the correlations between the constructs exceeded the recommended value of .85 indicating the constructs included in the study have discriminant validity. The mean and standard deviation of each subscale and scale along with correlation coefficients for all the variables are presented in Table 1.

Means, Standard Deviations and Correlations among Variables

Multiple Regression
The data were analyzed using simultaneous multiple regression. First, the assumptions of regression analysis were tested and the results showed that none of the assumptions was violated. According to Hair, Anderson, Tatham, & Black (1998), the recommended sample size is 15 to 20 per independent variable. Thus, a sample size of 140 was recommended for the current study. However, the data from 609 participants were available for this analysis. The normality of the data was checked using skewness and kurtosis and the results showed that all seven variables did not break the assumption of univariate normality. In addition, Durbin-Watson value, tolerance, and variance inflation factor indicated that there is no multicollinearity issues existed between the independent variables.

Customer satisfaction was regressed on the seven attributes of service quality. For the overall model, F = 59.71 and was highly significant with p less than .001. The results demonstrated that service quality attributes all together explained 40.5% of the total variance (R2 = .412, adjust R2 = .405) in customer satisfaction among golfers in South Korea. In terms of the individual attributes of the service quality, caddy competency had the greatest influence on customer satisfaction followed by accessibility, physical environment, cost, course difficulty, and employee service (p less than .01). However, convenience of website reservation system did not contribute to customer satisfaction significantly. The result of simultaneous multiple regression is presented in Table 2.

Simultaneous Regression Analysis of Customer Satisfaction on Attributes of the Service Quality

DISCUSSION
The current study found that six of the seven attributes of service quality contributed significantly in explaining customer satisfaction among golf course users in South Korea. Of the significant attributes, caddy competency had the greatest influence on customer satisfaction followed by accessibility, physical environment, cost, course difficulty, and employee service. It is noteworthy that tangible elements of service quality (i.e., accessibility, physical environment, cost, and course difficulty) significantly explained the level of customer satisfaction. In fact, Nuviala et al. (2012) argued that service quality is mainly determined by tangible elements of the sport venues and these elements are strongly related to customer satisfaction.

However, many researchers still claim that service quality is evaluated in combination of tangible and intangible elements and this further leads to customer satisfaction (Bodet, 2006). The importance of intangible elements on customer satisfaction was supported in this study. In the current study, caddy competency and employee service were considered as important contributors to customer satisfaction. In particular, caddy competency was the biggest contributor to customer satisfaction. Although recent studies suggested that social interaction customers have with the employees is not as important as tangible elements of service quality (Manas, Jimenez, Muyor, Martinex, & Moliner, 2008), this study found that golfers in South Korea value the customer and employee interaction, especially the interaction with caddies, when they evaluate service quality. This may be due to the fact that caddies are in contact with golfers during the entire golf rounding. According to Schneider & Bowen (1985), individuals’ perceived quality was greatly influenced by employees’ attitudes and behaviors as service delivery occurs during the interaction between employees and customers. Therefore, it makes sense that the experience golfers have with the golf course employees and caddies have a great impact on their overall satisfaction level.

Different from the expectation, convenience of website reservation system did not significantly contribute to customer satisfaction. The weak relationship may be due to the technological advancement in South Korea. In fact, almost all golf courses in South Korea utilize convenient easy to use online reservation system nowadays; therefore, this factor does not truly differentiate one golf course from another by itself. Customers may reflect this attribute as a significant factor if the reservation system does not operate well. However, in a modern technological environment, they may not consider this attribute as a factor that influences their level of satisfaction because the expectation is that the system will operate without any errors.

There are several limitations in the current study. First of all, the results presented in this study are based on a convenience sampling of recreational golfers in South Korea. Thus, the results can be only generalized to Korean recreational golfers. In addition, the data were collected only at private golf courses. As a result, the study results cannot be generalized beyond the private golf course setting. According to Taylor et al. (1993), service quality theoretical models differ based on recreational service settings and cultures indicating that many considerations should be given when making generalizations.

Future studies should consider replicating the present study at a public golf setting. As demographics of golfers who use public golf courses are different from the golfers using private golf courses in South Korea, service quality studies should be conducted on public golf courses. In addition, differences between public golf course service quality and private golf course service quality should be examined. Finally, as expectations play a significant role in the perception of service quality, factors influencing expectations should be examined when the relationships between service quality and behavioral outcomes are examined. For example, Zeithaml, Parasuraman, & Berry (1990) stated that word of mouth communications, personal needs, past experience, and external communications have an impact on expectations of customers on a service provider. Therefore, future studies should investigate the influence of those factors on service quality.

CONCLUSION
The current study found that service quality attributes of caddy competency, accessibility, physical environment, cost, course difficulty, and employee service had a significant impact on recreational golfers’ level of satisfaction with the private golf courses in South Korea. This study provides both practical and theoretical significance. As competition for consumers among golf courses has increased dramatically in South Korea, it is important for golf course managers/administrators to understand the factors contributing to customer satisfaction. In this sense, the results of the current study suggest the different degrees of importance for the service attributes that contribute to the service quality among golf participants in South Korea. This will help golf course managers to understand what they need to focus on in terms of satisfying their customers so that they become loyal customers. Theoretically, there hasn’t been much research on the attributes and measures of service quality in the context of golf courses in South Korea. This study reconfirms the reliability and validity of Cho et al.’s (2010) seven attributes of service quality, which is specifically developed for Korean golf course environment. Therefore, it adds to the existing body of knowledge in sport management literature, specifically in a South Korean golf course setting.

APPLICATIONS IN SPORT
The results of the study suggest golf course managers on what factors they need to pay more attention to in order to satisfy their customers and increase customers’ revisit rate. Tangible elements that were found to be important in this study may not be under direct control of the golf course managers. However, what is more of the managers’ control is human resource practice. As this study found that caddy competency was the biggest contributor to customer satisfaction, the managers should develop strategies that could recruit and retain competent caddies. In addition, the managers should develop and provide ongoing training programs that could enhance caddies’ expertise in providing professional advice and service. Those training should be also given to all the other employees who have direct contact with customers as the finding indicated that employee service is associated with customer satisfaction. In particular, social interaction quality with employees could be more important in private golf courses because it is run on a membership basis and the customers pay more expensive fees compare to public golf courses. Thus, the expectations of customers for employees’ service could be higher in this setting and the managers should recognize what satisfies the customers and train the employees appropriately.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
None

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