# A case study on service quality perceptions and member retention towards Taekwondo participants in North America

## Article information

Int J Appl Sports Sci. 2021;33(2):248-262
Kim Minkila, An Youngseokb, Kwon Woongc,
a Associate professor, School of Hospitality, Sport, and Tourism Management, Troy University-Atlanta USA
b Grand Master, Martial Arts USA, Cypress, Texas USA
c Assistant professor, Department of Physical Education, College of Education, Jeju National University, Jeju Korea
Received 2021 November 15; Revised 2021 December 12; Accepted 2021 December 27.

## Abstract

COVID-19 continues to represent the challenge to Taekwondo (TKD) schools. TKD schools have been closed and faced with decreasing participants due to the Pandemic. The purpose of this study is to examine the extent to which service quality factors predict member intention for renewal in TKD schools. The target population evaluated for this study consisted of individuals aged at least 18 years or older who had attended a TKD schools. This study conducted for TKD members in the U.S.. A total of 159 participants were recruited via both in-person and online surveys. This study revealed that TKD members in U.S. of various demographic backgrounds had different perceptions of service quality factors that affected their attendance at TKD schools. The findings of this study will indicate the impact on the satisfaction of various TKD programs and maintenance of membership.

## Introduction

Participation in physically active recreation and sports has increased tremendously in recent years due to this increased fitness and health consciousness. Along with various other activities, martial arts have become an increasingly popular recreational pursuit in Western countries. However, there has been uncertainty surrounding the effect of the virus outbreak in the sport industry. For instance, it has caused to postponement and cancellation of international sporting events, including professional leagues and the 2020 Summer Olympics. The pandemic of COVID-19 has a huge impact sports events as well as significant effect on martial arts training worldwide (Helson et al., 2021; Rothan et al., 2020).

The elevated interest in martial arts has increased the magnitude of their market share. For instance, a majority of Taekwondo (TKD) schools in North America are commercial establishments. The elevated interest in TKD has expanded its market and led to the realization that TKD instruction can be a profitable business when properly managed. Besides competing with other TKD programs, a TKD school usually has to compete with other types of martial arts providers, such as XMA, karate, and kung fu (Kim et al., 2009). Therefore, the Business success and future growth in a highly competitive market environment depends on how well martial arts organizations understand their consumers and adapt to changes in consumer demand. It is important for the administrators of martial arts programs to identify unique variables that directly affect an individual’s decision to retain a program (Kim et al., 2013; Kim & Zhang, 2019).

In particular, no research has investigated those variables representing the attributes of service quality for private TKD schools in the U.S. To fill this void, Kim et al. (2019) identified six dimensions of attributes denoting market demand associated with TKD schools by developing the Scale of Market Demand for Taekwondo Schools (SMD-TKD) to measure key market demand dimensions. These factors were found to be representative of TKD market demand (i.e., Personal Benefits, School Operation, Instruction Quality, Program Offering, Locker Room, and Cultural Learning).

Although the current trends of growth in the TKD schools are generating new opportunities for TKD enthusiasts, rapid growth in the number of the TKD schools has resulted in a highly competitive business environment in North America (Kim et al, 2020). In addition, COVID-19 continues to represent the challenge to TKD schools. TKD schools have been closed and faced with decreasing participants due to the Pandemic.

It is assumed that satisfaction is formed based on customers’ previous experience and cumulative evaluations of a TKD program, and is assumed to be a key determinant of customer retention and positive word-of-mouth (Bitner, 1990; Cronin & Taylor, 1992). The success of a sports program depends on the extent to which it can satisfy customers with quality service. High levels of customer satisfaction would be helpful in preventing or reducing customer attrition (Muline, 2014). Membership is a major source of revenue generation for health/fitness organizations (Mullin et al., 2014). Likewise, the ongoing operation of TKD schools primarily rely on revenues generated from its membership (Kim & Zhang, 2019); yet, recruiting and retaining members are the most challenging for programs. Understanding specific factors that influence participation in TKD would facilitate an understanding of participants’ decision-making process (Kim et al, 2009; Kim & Zhang, 2019). No study to date has conducted a rigorous examination of service quality factors in TKD schools. The purpose of this study is to examine the extent to which service quality factors predict member intention for renewal in TKD schools.

## Literature Review

### Taekwondo (TKD)

Taekwondo (TKD) has rapidly grown and developed in its popularity in the world. TKD has become the world’s most-practiced martial arts activity and has gained an international reputation as an Olympic sport based on the efforts of TKD enthusiasts who actively promoted the sport as a formal competitive game in the Olympics (Kim & Zhang, 2019). The benefits of participating in TKD are widely publicized in areas of culture, spirit, mind, and body (Ko et al., 2010). To a great extent, TKD’s popularity and international recognition are attributable to the concerted efforts that the Korean government has made over the years to promote this sport internationally (Kim et al, 2015; Kim et al, 2019). TKD has been the most popular discipline among various martial arts. For example, there are 80 million have participated in TKD in 210 countries and there are 206 TKD competition events in the world in 2015. TKD is increasing the number of participants, organizations, and products in the U.S. There are approximately 3 million TKD participants and more than 16,000 TKD schools in the U.S. (World Taekwondo, 2021).

There are several factors that influence the current growth of TKD: (a) change in the value of TKD training, (b) modernization of instructional curriculum, (c) promotional efforts made by governments of the TKD countries-of-origin, (d) increased marketing efforts in the TKD business, (e) globalization of TKD through sportification and formalization (i.e., Olympic sport), (f) the diversification of TKD products (e.g., movie and entertainment program), and (g) emergence of a new genre of TKD events (e.g., mixed martial arts competition) (Kim, Zhang, & Ko, 2009; Kim & Zhang, 2019).

### Service Quality

The notion of service quality is a dynamic, multifaceted, and integrates a number of facets of both past and present service experiences (Biscaia et al., 2021; Rajagopal, 2014). They found that for many years in service marketing literature, numerous studies have been researched regarding the service quality. According to Bitner and Hubbert (1994), service quality has been defined as “the consumer’s overall impression of the relative inferiority/superiority of the organization and its service” (p. 77). Service quality is a valuable source for organizations to gain a competitive advantage that customer would stay with an organization longer, purchase additional services, and recommend the organization to other consumers (Biscaia et al., 2017; Rajagopal, 2014; Zeithaml et al., 1996). In addition, service quality is one of the key elements that effect on customer retention/reuse and the long-term profitability of an organization. Satisfactory service quality is required to meet the needs and expectations of the customers (Stum & Thiry, 1991).

Parasuraman et al. (1991) developed the Service Quality Scale (SERVQUAL) that takes into account the customers’ perception of the relative importance of service attributes. The five key dimensions of SERVQUAL are: (a) tangibles (e.g., physical facilities, equipment, and appearance) (b) reliability (e.g., ability to perform the promised service), (c) responsiveness (e.g., willingness to help clients), (d) assurance (e.g., knowledge, competence, and courtesy of employees), and (e) empathy (e.g., caring, access, communication and understanding). They found that reliability is the most important contributor to service quality and tangibles is the least important.

#### Service Quality in Sport

As the sports industry becomes more globalized, the success of a sport organization depends on their ability to satisfy their customers with service quality. In addition, service quality in the recreational sport industry is assessed by the customer’s overall impression of the service delivery systems, the service performance, and the whole consumption experience (Ko et al., 2010; Lam et al., 2005; Yoshida & James, 2010). In the sport industry, both managers and researchers in the sport industry have focused on the issue of service quality due to the increasing use of these services (Lee et al., 2011).

As proposed by Brady and Cronin (2001), perceived service quality is based on customer’s assessment of the fundamental three dimensions: physical environment quality, interaction quality, and outcome quality. Ko and Pastore (2005) developed conceptual model including of program quality, interaction quality, outcome quality, and physical environment. Program quality is the customer’s relative perception about the program through customer experience. For example, fitness instruction and childcare service are considered primary service products in recreational sports. Interaction quality is how the service is transmitted. Outcome quality refers to an effect of the service and what the participant gains from the service. Lastly, physical environment is the tangible physical surrounding such as facility’s design, ambience, and equipment. To evaluate service quality in health-fitness clubs, Lam et al. (2005) developed Service Quality Assessment Scale (SQAS) that consists of six dimensions: Staff, Program, Locker Room, Physical Facility, Workout Facility, and Child Care. Zhang (2015) also revealed the importance of providing quality programs and the necessity of developing diversified programs in order to achieve market penetration and expansion, as well as the importance of considering sociodemographic variables when planning marketing strategies.

### Theoretical Framework and Hypotheses

#### Physical Environment Quality

Chelladurai, Scott, and Haywood-Farmer (1987) noted that “when consumers evaluate whether to join a particular club, they may base their decision on those aspects of the club they can see, the physical evidence of the tangible facilities and goods” (p. 169). The physical environment quality dimension refers to how service delivery occurs as opposed to the natural or social environment and physical environment items is impacted to customers and employees (Bitner, 1992). The significant items included ambient conditions, space and function, signs, artifacts, symbols, and social interactions. Likewise, physical environment quality (e.g., up-to-date equipment and visually appealing facility) is considered as an important component in sport events (Ma & Kaplanidou, 2018; Theodorakis et al., 2015).

In line with this notion, this dimension was consistent with previous studies on fitness and recreational sport facilities that identified important variables related to physical environment quality perspectives, such as ambience (Kim & Pastore, 2005 ), program service (i.e., activity range due to facility availability, facility comfort, and safe equipment) (Howat et al., , 1996; MacIntosh & Doherty, 2007; Yosida & James, 2010), context (i.e., facility, location, and equipment and tools) (Chelladurai & Chang, 2000), facility attraction, facility operations (Papadimitriou & Karteroliotis, 2000), physical and workout facilities (Lam, et al., 2005; MacIntosh & Doherty, 2007), and physical environment elements (i.e., ambience, design, and equipment) (Ko et al., 2011; MacIntosh & Doherty, 2007). In martial arts perspective, Kim et al.’s (2019) study found that physical environment quality especially up-to-date equipment with a variety of functions and a visually appealing facility was important variables for TKD participants. TKD participants are often concerned about the potential for injury, so safety equipment (e.g., padded or sprung floors) is necessary for participants. In line with previous studies, the Physical Environment Quality (PEQ) dimension can impact on participants’ experiences concerning participation and retention in martial arts schools (Kim et al., 2009, 2019). The previous studies leads to the first hypothesis.

• H1: Perceived physical environment quality has a significant positive influence on member intention for renewal.

#### Program Activities Quality

Research has demonstrated that quality sport programs have the potential to foster the physical and psychosocial development of youth. Researchers noted the importance of high quality programs and developing diversified programs in order to achieve market penetration and expansion (Howat et al., 1996; Kim et al., 2009; Ko & Pastore, 2005; MacIntosh & Doherty, 2007).

The Program Activities Quality dimension is used to evaluate whether and how a variety of activities is offered to customers/participants. For example, Kim et al. (2013, 2019) argued that martial arts schools need to diversify their programs by integrating after-school programs, belt promotion ceremonies, tournaments, family programs, child-care services, and self-defense techniques into their program curriculum. Unlike participants in Western sports, participants in martial arts programs earn differently-colored belts that indicate their degree of proficiency. Belts are awarded on the basis of tenure, skill performance, and personal improvement. Kim et al. (2009) found that teenage American TKD participants viewed TKD training as a means of self-defense, physical exercise, and fun. In contrast, adult participants valued TKD training for its ability to improve their self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-discipline. Obviously, these differences should be taken into consideration in promoting/designing activity offerings of TKD programs.

Positive perceived value of the program can lead to trusting beliefs and result in intention to commit to a long-term relationship with a martial arts school, and vice versa, which would affect member satisfaction and commitment (Kim & Zhang, 2019). The previous studies leads to the second hypothesis.

• H2: Perceived program activity quality has a significant positive influence on member intention for renewal.

#### e-Service quality

The e-service quality is defined as a consumer’s overall evaluation and judgement of the quality of the e-service delivery in the internet marketplace (Santos, 2003). It is the provision of a superior consumer experience in all aspects of the service offered through an organization’s web site. Long and McMellon (2004) also found that consumers primarily make their evaluation and assessment of e-service quality based on the specific attributes of the web site interface because of the limited human interaction with the service provider in the delivery of eservices.

In particular, sport-related websites are frequently used by sports organizations as a vehicle to provide various services and additional enjoyment to consumers (Carlson & O’Cass, 2012; Fassnacht & Koese, 2006; Hur et al.,, 2007; Suh & Pedersen, 2013). To extend the experience of service quality to the online sport consumption context, several studies had attempted to examine how sport fans perceive service quality provided by sport websites (Hur et al., 2011; Carlson & O’Cass, 2012; Suh et al., 2013).

To identify e-service quality dimension, the authors Hur et al. (2011) and Suh et al. (2013) developed a specific scale to measure the quality of sport websites (Sport Web Quality, SWQ). These dimensions include the quality of information, interaction, design, reliability, and compliance. Additionally, Fassnacht and Koese (2006) and Carlson and O’Cass (2012) conceptualized sport website quality in a hierarchical framework with three primary dimensions (i.e., environment quality, delivery quality, and outcome quality). In the study, they found that the overall website-service quality customer satisfaction significantly impact on the fans’ trust and loyalty to the website and it leads to customer retention (Suh et al., 2013).

The focus of e-service quality evaluations by sports consumers are made predominately via the website interface and as such, the website design is a critical issue because of its trust building role. It is argued that the positive evaluation of sports consumers' e-service quality has a positive effect on online trust formation (Carlson & O’Cass, 2012). Although interest in e-service quality is increasing, there is no study examining e-service quality in the martial arts field. For example, Kim and Peterson (2005) the study of e-service quality has shown that consumers appear to primarily evaluate the quality of the e-service offering based on the attributes of the website interface. The previous studies leads to the third hypothesis.

• H3: Perceived e-service quality has a significant positive influence on member intention for renewal.

#### Economic Consideration Quality

Eschenfelder and Li (2007) noted that “the expected cost and benefits decision makers in sport face are influenced by the type of economic system used to make decisions in society” (p. 26). Previous researchers have identified economic considerations as aspects of consumer perceptions of economic conditions and related variables that potentially influence their consumption decisions. For instance, Economic considerations usually dealt with such variables as ticket price, marketing promotion, substitute forms of entertainment, television effect, income, and competition with other sporting events (e.g., Zhang et al., 2003). Ouyan et al (2019) investigated the relationship between customer satisfaction and price sensitivity among martial arts participants. They found that the relationship between participants’ satisfaction and price sensitivity was significantly different between gender and participation frequency groups.

In the setting of martial arts schools, there are likely several economic considerations, such as membership fees, payment method, discounts, refunds, membership promotions and coupons in the setting of TKD school (Kim et al., 2009, 2013). Payment system is related to pricing strategies, which is generated from the descriptive statistics revealing that a flexible payment option, reasonable membership fee and various payment methods were critically considered by program participants. The dimension of Economic Consideration Quality was shown to be most important factor to lead to member satisfaction and commitment in TKD schools (Kim et al., 2013, 2019). They found that martial arts school administrators might consider applying family discounts, long-term membership discounts and referral discounts to retain martial arts members (Kim et al., 2019). The previous studies leads to the fourth hypothesis.

• H4: Perceived economic consideration quality has a significant positive influence on member intention for renewal.

## Methods

Referral credit ($20 voucher) 6.35 1.38 Price lock program (no membership fee increase) 6.60 1.12 Lifetime membership (10-year contract and remaining for free) 5.00 2.18 Pricing of Taekwondo program 5.83 1.23 ### Table 3. ### Factor Correlations #1 #2 #3 #4 MR PEQ 1.00 .74** .69** .55** .47** PAQ 1.00 .80** .49** .85** ESQ 1.00 .21* .68** ECQ 1.00 .30** MR 1.00 Note. * and ** indicate correlation values significant at the .05 and .01 level, respectively. Physical Environment Quality (PEQ), Program Activities Quality (PAQ), e-Service quality (ESQ), and Economic Consideration Quality (ECQ), Member Retention (MR) ### Table 4. ### Multiple Regression Analyses I Independent Variables Standardized Coefficients t Sig. Hypothesis Testing Beta PEQ .353 3.289 .001 H1 Supported PAQ .376 3.907 .001 H2 Supported ESQ .226 2.442 .001 H3 Supported ECQ .040 .409 .684 H4 Not Supported Multiple Regression Analyses II Independent Variables Standardized Coefficients t Sig. R square Beta PEQ .34 Location of the facility .353 3.289 .001 PAQ .86 ESQ .50 ECQ .47 Punch card for store credit ($20) .362 3.034 .003
Referral credit (\$20 voucher) -.420 -3.345 .001
Pricing of Taekwondo program .591 7.038 <.001

Note. * indicates statistical significance at the .01 level (Bonferroni inequality adjustment applied). Dependent variable = Member Intention for Renewal

Physical Environment Quality (PEQ), Program Activities Quality (PAQ), e-Service quality (ESQ), and Economic Consideration Quality (ECQ)