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It was once touted as the call center of the future. But now, the whole future is in doubt.

TELUS International Inc. issued layoff notices to 267 employees at its Folsom call center, where workers provided technical assistance to customers of Google, TikTok and other Silicon Valley companies.

The center, which once featured a Ford Mustang-shaped pool table and retro restaurant-themed conference rooms, is now virtually empty of employees.

The idea was to create a fun work environment that would result in atypically strong customer service that would be particularly appealing to high-tech companies willing to pay more than typical call center services in the Philippines or India or rural areas of the United States.

TELUS International also has some of these centers overseas, operating in more than 25 countries.

So gone wrong? The company wouldn’t discuss specifics, but winning new business from tech companies and then losing it has been standard course at Folsom’s call center since operations began in late 2015.

The center could accommodate about 650 call center workers on two floors, but the workforce never exceeded about 400 at its peak.

In reviews on various websites that rate companies, some former workers blame employee dissatisfaction with the center not performing as promised. Employees say they encountered poor managers and low pay and working hours that weren’t flexible as promised.

In 2019, the call center lost its biggest customer, technology company NEST, maker of various home technology products. resulting in the dismissal of 238 employees.

New contracts with technology companies followed. But the end has come quickly over the past few months, with the center losing their last two major contracts.

Notices filed by TELUS International with the state’s Department of Employment Development show the latest layoffs came in two batches. In the latest notice last month, TELUS announced that 180 employees would be laid off effective September 6, due to “the end of a customer relationship and the expiration of a contract”.

“This massive layoff is expected to be permanent,” the company said.

The previous layoffs were announced on May 1. TELUS International has informed the state’s EDD that it will be laying off 87 employees on June 30 due to the end of another contractual relationship with an employer.

Companies that have not renewed contracts with TELUS International are Google and TikTok, according to workers affiliated with the call center. Representatives for the two companies did not respond to emails from The Sacramento Bee.

As of Tuesday afternoon, only four cars dotted the parking lot with several hundred spaces near the call center at 255 Parkshore Drive near Folsom Blvd. The doors to the two-story call center building were locked and security guards could be seen wandering the lobby.

Several months ago the parking lot was full and several hundred people were occupying seats inside the call center, according to people connected to the center who could not give their names because they were not authorized to talk.

TELUS International spokeswoman Leslie Clavin said the center was not closed. She said Telus International switched to a remote working model at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

She said the remote work policy applied to the majority of U.S. employees, including those at Folsom. She said some Folsom employees were working onsite in a hybrid model.

What’s unclear is how many employees are staying at the Folsom plant or working remotely in California. Claven declined to offer specific numbers.

In an email, addressing the latest work reduction, Claven said the client employing the terminated Folsom employees was reducing its overall global workforce.

“Unfortunately, this decision extends to employees providing customer support through third-party vendors, including TELUS International.”

Claven said his company is looking to find work for employees with other teams, including remote work.

The TELUS International website does not list any vacancies in California.

What is clear is that TELUS International is focused on creating new jobs in a new location in North Charleston, South Carolina.

In August 2021, the company pledged to create 1,200 new jobs in South Carolina by 2022 by investing more than $3 million to open a new call center and create new jobs.

It also operates an American call center in Las Vegas.

In announcing the opening of the South Carolina facility last August, a senior TELUS International official promoted working inside the facility, not the remote working philosophy that Claven said the company joins.

“TELUS International’s 80,000 square foot North Charleston Delivery Center offers spacious workspaces with plenty of natural light, as well as a long list of employee amenities, including ergonomic workstations, a 24/7 sports, cafe and outdoor space. BBQ area with fireplace,” said Chuck Koskovich, Chief Operating Officer of TELUS International.

Koskovich made no mention of the challenges of COVID-19 or working remotely.

Folsom’s call center was originally connected to another company, Voxpro, based in Dublin. It was sold to TELUS International in 2017. TELUS International is owned by Telus, which is based in British Columbia and is a Canadian provider of telephone and Internet services.

In late 2015, Voxpro officials pointed out that they had chosen the Sacramento area for its first call center in the United States because it is close to Silicon Valley.

“A lot of (customers) are tired of air travel to remote parts of the United States,” said Dan Kiely, founder, co-owner and chief executive of Voxpro, during a visit to the Folsom plant.

Kiely also promised Voxpro officials would be committed to Folsom, keeping the center running for years to come.

This story was originally published August 3, 2022 12:55 p.m.

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Randy Diamond is a business reporter for The Sacramento Bee.