The success of organisations relies heavily on the management of quality (Zeithaml and Bitner, 2003 or 2006) Managing customer care and service quality are fundamental for the achievement of any organisation (Ko and Pastore, 2004). Service suppliers that deliver a high level of service quality and customer care are more likely to achieve higher levels of customer satisfaction (Saravanan and Rao, 2007). As a result satisfied customers will be more encouraged to re-use the services; this will usually impact on the financial success of the organisation (Howat, et al., 1999).
General principles of quality
The fundamentals of the word ‘quality’ presented in the work of Deming in the late 1980’s create a basis for further study into the area. As a result, a number of definitions of quality have been proposed by researchers. Mills, (1992, p.2) stated that quality was “the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy or implied needs”. Further research into quality has indicated that a more useful definition has been defined as “meeting the agreed requirements of the customer” (Kelly, 2004, p.33). Both definitions of quality are connected to both goods and services with emphasis on the features of the product or alternatively focus on the customer’s needs and expectations (Chang and Chelladurai, 2000).
Goods are “defined as tangible; these are physical products that offer benefits to consumers, in contrast services are defined as intangible, and represent non-physical products” (Shank, 2009, p.16). Services have five main characteristics that are unique to service markets; these are intangibility; perishability; inseparability; heterogeneity and lack of ownership (Kotler, 2005). Heterogeneity indicates that each service experience is likely to be different as factors such as the time and location change, also the interaction phase with customers differs (Kotler, 2005). To reduce the impact of heterogeneity, management “must focus on the operating systems, procedures and staff training in order to ensure consistency” (Brassington and Pettitt, 2007, p.465). Furthermore, the quality of staff is becoming increasingly essential in the public service industry, with managers indicating their expectations of staff in terms of their attitudes and competencies when delivering the service to customers (Swarbrooke, 2002; Brassington and Pettitt, 2007)
Managing the quality of goods and services primarily involves benchmarking, this “is the measurement of an aspect of an organisation’s performance against an internal or external target” (Beech and Chadwick, 2004, p.256). Two other key terms associated with quality include quality assurance and quality control, Mills, (1992, p.3) states quality assurance provides “adequate confidence that a product or service will satisfy given requirements of quality”. In contrast (Dale, 2000) suggests that quality control aims to achieve and monitor service quality, by identifying and addressing quality problems.
Researchers have recognised that there are several issues with the conceptualization and measurement of quality in relation to sport services, for example (Tsitskari, et al., 2006) suggests that there is a degree of uncertainty and disagreement regarding parts of the criteria including the conceptual model of quality. Previous literature (such as Ko and Pastore, 2004; Tsitskari, et al., 2006) have focused on the concept of service quality and acknowledged that there are several definitions of service quality. However (Parasuraman, et al., 1988, p.2) defined service quality as “an appropriate approach for assessing the quality of a firm’s service is to measure consumers’ perceptions of quality”. In other words service quality is the comparison of consumer expectations with the actual service performance (Parasuraman, et al., 1988).
The concept of service quality is based upon the customers’ perception of the characteristics and delivery of services (Ko and Pastore, 2004). Further research by Zeithaml and Bitner, (2006) suggests that the concept of service quality is a significant issue, as service quality perceptions are related to customer satisfaction and customer retention.
Other researchers such as (Kim and Kim, 1995) have had varied perceptions on the measurement of service quality. However the main use of measuring service quality has been through the instrument, SERVQUAL, a 22 item scale founded by Parasuraman, et al., (1988). Recent research by (Tsitskari, et al., 2006) indicates that the majority of researchers accept that the 22 items in SERVQUAL are sufficient indictors for the overall measurement of service quality. However a study by Murray and Howat (2002) demonstrates that there is a lack of agreement on the exact nature of service quality dimensions.
For example, (Parasuraman, et al., 1988) formed five dimensions of service quality: responsiveness, assurance, tangibles, empathy and reliability, through using the SERVQUAL scale, mainly focusing on the human aspects of service delivery. However (Chang and Chelladurai, 2000) suggest the variability in dimensional structure can be modified and tailored for specific industries. For example, Howat, et al., (1999), used only three dimensions for 17 service quality attributes in their study of 30 Australian sports and leisure centres. The three dimensions used in the study were (a) core service, which included a range of activities with programme information, (b) personnel service, which included the quality, knowledge and responsiveness of staff, (c) peripheral service including secondary services including services for food and drink. The observations suggest that a comprehensive conceptual model needs to be developed for a better understanding of the nature and meaning of service quality (Ko and Pastore, 2004).
Robinson, (2004) identified three frameworks for managing quality, these are: total quality management (TQM), the EFQM Excellence Model and Quest, as all these frameworks emphasise performance management and continuous improvement.
Firstly TQM is a framework for quality management and is “a process from top to bottom, bottom to top, which involves every person in an organisation, in order to ensure customer satisfaction at every stage” (Torkildsen, 2005, p.382). The three main principles of TQM are customer focus, continuous improvement and teamwork (De Knop, et al., 2004).
The EFQM Excellence Model is the most widely used organisational framework in Europe while becoming increasingly popular in the sport industry as it created the basis for QUEST (Robinson, 2004). The key principles of the model include “results orientation; customer focus; leadership and constancy of purpose; management by processes and facts; people development and involvement; continuous learning; innovation and improvement; partnership development; and corporate social responsibility” (Beech and Chadwick, 2004, p.257).
Quest is a sport and leisure specific quality framework, and is a tool for continuous improvement; Quest also defines industry standards and good practice and encourages high quality delivery to customers. (Quest, 2009) Two models are associated with Quest, one model focuses on the management of leisure facilities and the other focuses on sport development, (Quest, 2009). Quest is funded by a wide range of organisations with the majority of the support coming from the four home country Sports Councils (Torkildsen, 2005). The Quest scheme for facility management identifies four essential sections; these include facilities operation, customer relations, staffing and service development and improvement, all of which are examples of best practice in the leisure industry (Wood, 1997).
Organisations have recognised the importance of the quality programme of ISO 9002. This quality programme ensures that the operations of the service are displayed through a consistent approach, recognising that customers can expect the service to be similar from day to day and between service deliverers (Robinson, 2004).
Literature has demonstrated that there are many challenges and issues for managing quality in the public sector industry. For instance, Doherty, et al, (2002) suggests that that external issues for concern include, increasing complaints about the declining level of quality in areas such as transport, education and health. In contrast, (Doherty, et al, 2002) also recognises internal challenges for organisations, with the current growth of internal assessments, and issues around quality and value for money.
Beech and Chadwick, (2004) identify specific challenges for managers managing quality in the public sector; these primarily include recognising and acknowledging their main customer groups and then managing these customers’ experiences by improving the service delivery through performance measures. However, managers who don’t prioritise their customer groups will “run the risk of delivering services that do not meet any expectations of quality” (Robinson, 2004, p.141). Additionally it is important for managers in the sport industry to understand and identify participation motives and “customers’ problems because this determines not only the level of service quality, but also the level of customer satisfaction” (Ko and Pastore, 2004, p.162).
An earlier study by Schvaneveldt, et al., (1991) indicated that three key factors affected the delivery of service quality in sport organisations. The three factors were associated to the core service, the physical context and most importantly the interpersonal interactions in the performance of the service. These observations have major implications on customer care as the quality of the encounter is an essential element in the overall impression of the quality of service experienced by the customer (Dale, 2000). In addition, Swarbrooke, (2002) suggested that observing quality in public services primarily focused on issues such as the cost of the service and perception on value for money from the service.
There are a number of issues and challenges associated to managing quality in the public sport sector. For example MacVicar and Ogden, (2001) suggests that managers in the public sport sector are more inclined to use peripheral workers due to the competitive environment and budget pressures. Peripheral workers are primarily on non-standard contracts and carry out services and duties that are delivered to customers. The challenge managers’ face is that they “have to develop strategies to motivate an insecure, low commitment workforce to ensure good customer care is provided”. (MacVicar and Ogden, 2001, p.129)
Another issue in managing quality in the public sport sector industry is that “expectations are either so unrealistic that it is not possible to deliver services of such a high standard, or it is financially very costly to do so”, given the levels of resource constraint (Robinson, 2004, p.178). Recent research by (Alexandris, 2008) demonstrated the importance of identifying performance indicators in order to test the success of the managers’ strategies, and goals and reflect on the quality delivered to customers.
Research by (Lentell, 2000, p.2) has indicated that customer satisfaction in sport services can be affected by “factors such as the robustness of the bookings system, the promptness of the service delivery, and the way customers are treated by staff, or by the cleanliness of the service outlet”. However recent research by (Tsuji, et al., 2007) suggests that managers should continuously develop and adopt procedures to understand, evaluate, and improve on the quality of services provided to their consumers’ in-order to improve customer care.
The current state of golf, is that it is a $60 billion industry, with 30,730 courses worldwide and over 57 million golfers.(Golf Research Group, 2009 ) The Royal &Ancient (R&A) is golf’s governing body, it operates with 136 organisations from the amateur and professional game and on behalf of over thirty million golfers in 123 countries (R & A, 2009).
The R & A identify that the implementation of best practice throughout a golf club can be demonstrated firstly through ensuring that the management structure is capable of setting policy objectives which maintain and improve the quality of the golfing facility (R & A, 2009). In addition the R&A, recognise the importance of monitoring and reviewing the policy objectives as well as focusing on the efficient and effectiveness of service delivery to customers (R&A, 2009)
The governing body of male amateur golf in England is the English Golf Union, looking after the interests of over 1,800 golf clubs and 740,000 club members (English Golf Union, 2009). The governing body specifically addresses the management of quality at golf clubs in England. Providing assistance and support, in specific areas such as club adminstration, golf course management, as well as assisting staff in the day-to-day operations of the golf club and course (English Golf Union, 2009).
The majority of research on the management of quality in golf has come from the US golf industry. For example a US golf study on managing perceived quality has indicated that golf club managers that modify the price of green fees depending on the time of day, time of booking or condition of play may impact customer satisfaction (Kimes and Wirtz, 2003). A further American study investigated how golfers’ choose a golf course. The findings indicate that American golfers are most influenced by the cost of green fees, followed by the quality of course conditions, availability of tee times, and lastly the location of golf course (Richard and Fairclough, 1994). However recent research by (Won, et al., 2009) suggests that committed golfers care more about the core elements such as the quality of course conditions rather than the cost of green fees. The research suggests that golf club managers that are providing a quality service primarily need to improve the core elements such as course maintenance as well as operating the golf facility (Won, et al., 2009).
Other research surrounding the management of quality in golf has come from Korea, and Australia. For example a Korean study based on service quality and customer satisfaction suggested that managers of private golf clubs that focus on providing and improving service quality to customers can impact the profitability of golf clubs (Kim and Lough, 2007). Furthermore a study from the Australian golf industry identified twenty one service attributes. These attributes measured the perceptions of the golf facilities performance against the golfers’ expectations of the facility. The study specifically researched into “areas such as the appearance of the facilities, course quality, staff responsiveness, customer behaviour, etiquette and value for money” (Crilley, et al, 2002, p.374)
Further research into issues in managing quality in the context of golf, has reflected that an increasing number of American golf courses are being built annually, while the number of golfers in America remains stagnant (Petrick, et al., 2001). As a result it is important that golf club managers identify the factors which attract and retain golfers. The findings also recognise that by understanding golfer’s experiences, this will enhance the facility operations, leading to a higher quality of service delivery (Petrick, et al., 2001).
According to a report by the golf research group, (2002) based on UK golf courses this found that since the beginning of 1990, 603 new golf facilities have been built. This increase was initiated by the report called “The Demand for Golf” created by the R&A. However from 2000, the growth of new golf facilities has been limited and only 10 new golf facilities were opened from 2000 to 2002, due to financial constraints and the lack of demand in the golf industry. (Golf Research Report, year)
The current recession has affected the golf industry, according to a report from the English Golf Union they have found that memberships are declining in many golf clubs in the UK. Also the majority of golf clubs in the UK are not implementing joining fees in-order to attract new golfers (Mintel, 2009).
In the UK, in 2008 there were 1.225 million members of golf clubs, and there are 2,630 golf courses, 72% of these golf courses are located in England (Mintel, 2009).
According to a study by Mort and Collins (2001) they highlighted that 11% of golf courses totalling 210 in England, are classified as municipal golf courses, and stated that the objective of municipal golf courses is to maintain low green fees and attract the local population. Mowsbury Golf Club in Bedfordshire is a municipal golf course and is run by the local authority.
According to a report by the Golf Research Group, (year) on municipal golf courses in 2002, there has been a substantial decrease in the number of rounds played per year especially between the years of 1995-2001. For example in 1995 around 45,000 rounds were played, however by 2001 only 35,000 rounds were played on the municipal courses, reflecting a huge decrease of 10,000 rounds played. Over the 6 year period this was a 23% reduction in UK municipal rounds in the UK. (Golf Research Report, year)
Literature has acknowledged that there are a limited number of UK studies that have focused on service quality and customer care at golf clubs.
However one study focused on the management of quality at municipal golf courses and highlighted Best Value. Stevens and Green, (2002) indicate that Best Value primarily focuses on local authorities, ensuring that the quality and cost of services meet the needs of the local population, and that the efficiency and quality of services continually improve. The study indicated that the introduction of Best Value has contributed to an improvement in the operations of municipal golf courses, primarily through the process of benchmarking with the objective of improving service quality (Mort and Collins, 2001).
The purpose of this study is to investigate the level of service quality and customer care as perceived by members and non-members at Mowsbury Golf Club, Bedfordshire. The rationale for the study recognises that previous research reflects that are a limited number of UK studies on the customer care and service quality at golf clubs. Also previous researchers such as (Tsitskari, et al., 2006) have reflected the importance of service quality to the mission of sport and emphasises that further research towards service quality should be a primary concern.