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Holly virtual assistant: Durham University's student admissions AI bot

Durham University is an internationally recognised centre of academic excellence and staple of top 10 universities in the UK. Durham engaged with ICS.AI after upgrading their CRM to Dynamics and hosting a national AI summit for higher education with Microsoft. As the possibilities of AI were demonstrated, the Admissions team at Durham worked with us to build an AI assistant for recruitment of students on a global level.


Introducing Holly, Durham's student recruitment AI Assistant

Durham University have long been leaders in Student Engagement. Coronavirus dramatically changed how we work and we have used technology to support our staff and offer further process and experience improvementsaround critical student engagement touchpoints.


A step on this journey has been to provide an AI digital assistant to help Students deal with enrolment and enquires. Holly went live over Christmas successfully answering 98% of student enquires as well as logging follow up actions in our CRM System.


We are very pleased with what we have achieved with ICS.AI's Student Engagement Platform and look forward to extending it to other areas of the Student Experience.


Dr. Crispin Bloomfield

Operations Director

Durham University

Durham's introduction to AI

The journey began as Durham recognised that applying to university is a nerve-racking experience and the staff at Durham knew the pandemic had aggravated anxieties further, so were seeking a way to make the recruitment process a much smoother one, to allow students to feel heard and welcome.


The team at Durham were also intrigued by the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence and were looking for a particular scenario where they had requirements that could be met by using AI. Searching to improve the user experience, the enrolment and admissions team were keen to take the first leap and began the steps towards their own AI student assistant.

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The acceleration in digital adoption at Durham is now supported by the use of AI, which allows us to provide prospective students with a 360˚ digital engagement experience and enhanced functionality over our previous approach.
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Like our other public facing AI assistants, Holly is custom built using our proprietary SMART:CHAT software. It's ready to work for you on day one with a pre-trained understanding of user questions and intents. Thanks to its patent pending mesh learning it is constantly improving. Drawing from its own feedback and other Assistants it's connected to, our assistants provide instant value with robust analytics to help your organisation grow.

Find out more about SMART:CHAT >

Key Statistics

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prospective students have a conversation with Holly every week


of all contacts are happening outside of core offce hours when the team are unavailable


of all student conversations are converted to CRM enquiries for follow up


bot efficiency based on user feedback and the volume of questions answered

Holly is a versatile AI powered assistant designed to interact with all kinds of prospective undergraduate students. Backed by human parity, an advance that took ICS.AI 5 years to create and has enabled Durham to provide outcomes that are as good, if not better than a human. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week gives Durham an around the clock presence whenever students need it. Human parity is the leading factor for the success of Holly and is achieved by combining key skills that make up the assistant; a robust language model, pre-trained, with an ethical edge, part of a learning mesh, integration with back end systems and accessible UX.

The 24/7 feature of Holly allows Durham to be there for prospective students whatever the time, adding immediate value to international candidates or prospective students seeking information at night but also enabled human teams to follow up quickly and secure new prospects faster than before. The out of hours engagement with Holly is at 50% which proves just how vital an 'always-on' capability is to Durham.

Feedback on Holly from stakeholders


The Students

Holly offers so many amazing and detailed answers to a range of questions. Holly can process the question and immediately send across any relevant information available, it is quick and efficient which is fab!

Watch our Durham University Webinar

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Find out more about our journey working with Durham in our on-demand webinar.


  • Hear from Dr. Cris Bloomfield on the process of deploying an AI assistant

  • See some of the reporting and dashboards of what Holly is delivering

  • Watch product demos of how AI assistants can ehance the customer experience

  • Discover the power of conversational AI from ICS.AI's own CEO, Martin Neale

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