What’s the difference between AI and automation?


AI has become very ‘buzzwordy’ in multifamily. And despite AI’s practical applications, becoming a buzzword is not necessarily a good thing. 

As you sift through email pitches and product demos, I’m willing to bet almost every vendor has their own version of AI that is going to “change the game” in multifamily leasing, operations, or marketing. (Pot, meet kettle. I know, I know.) But here’s the thing. No one is going to change the game if everyone is learning different rules. 

Buzzwords like AI and automation are losing their power and meaning, but we’re here to set the record straight. 

And just to dust off our shoulders a little bit: as the first multifamily provider to introduce a conversational AI chatbot to the industry in 2017, and the first to launch an omnichannel AI leasing assistant in 2021, we are uniquely qualified to help navigate you through AI vs. automation. So let’s get started.

AI vs. automation

The difference between AI (artificial intelligence) and automaton has become a bit of a gray area for many multifamily professionals, as the two terms have been used interchangeably, or as a buzzword sprinkled into marketing collateral and webinar decks. (Again, I know. Pot, meet kettle. 🫖 😬) 

With this confusion, some companies may try to disguise automation as AI and sell it as a premium service.

Protect yourself from being bamboozled by a Scooby-Doo villain, and learn the technical differences between AI and automation. 

Artificial intelligence

AI is the “brains” of the operation, and its goal is to collect and analyze data to mimic human communication and decision making. Natural language processing (NLP) helps AI chatbots communicate in a human-like way, and can respond to typed questions (even ones with typos or grammatical errors). 

In the multifamily industry, AI is used to power website chatbots and AI leasing assistants to answer prospect questions around the clock (and much, much more, but we don’t have time for all that right now 🫖). 

However, not all chatbots are AI. Some rule-based chatbots are powered by automation…


Automation is a set of rules that allow a program to perform tasks meant to increase efficiency and free up humans from performing tedious, often error-prone tasks. In multifamily these tasks can include sending follow-up emails, review solicitation, surveys after maintenance, managing amenity usage and more. 

Rule-based, or decision-tree chatbots make it possible to add a chatbot to your website without the use of AI or NLP. They run off a set of rules and keywords programmed by humans to predict how someone will interact. Once a prospect uses one of the keywords, a predetermined response is triggered, even if the context of the inquiry doesn’t fit. Therefore these chatbots tend to feel more robotic and can’t respond to complex issues.

Continue reading about the differences between chatbots and AI leasing assistants, and which is better for your community.

AI and automation work better together

Don’t get me wrong, AI and automation are great tools on their own. Look at the way ChatGPT (AI) has taken over the internet this year. And automation has certainly come a long way since the pandemic (so many automated Grubhub text messages 🫣).

But when you get automation and AI to work together to collect and analyze data, you can unlock impressive features. 

For example, when a prospect inquires about a property using the ResMate AI leasing assistant, they’re nurtured using a combination of AI and automation. Communication and inquiries are handled through AI, and follow up emails, application requests, and more are handled through automation. The data is then saved in the prospect guest card to be analyzed and used throughout the renter’s journey (and the Respage platform—but we can get to that another time 🫖).

By combining these tools we can continue to build on the data to gather actionable insights beyond the leasing process to help with social media content creation, reputation management, resident renewal predictions, and more. 

Continue reading about a few ways we’re using AI that you probably haven’t thought of

True AI vs. vanity integrations

Let’s rewind for a minute to talk about that Scooby-Doo villain again. With so much new innovation happening around AI, it can be easy to mistake a vanity integration or automated chatbot as true AI. 

For example, multifamily companies may consider integrating their chatbot or AI leasing assistant with ChatGPT, which is a fantastic tool, but there are some pitfalls. 

ChatGPT operates with natural language processing, so it does have the ability to learn and communicate like a human. But one major difference between ChatGPT and multifamily AI chatbots is the data set with which it was trained. ChatGPT operates on an enormous data set that encompasses literally the entire internet. That’s huge when you’re using the chatbot to help write a midterm, but might not have specific data related to apartment leasing and property management.   

Multifamily NLP chatbots, on the other hand, have been trained using millions of conversations specifically about apartment leasing. 

For more info about the promises and pitfalls of ChatGPT-powered chatbots, check out what Respage CEO Ellen Thompson had to say.

You’ll also want to look out for fake AI chatbots that are actually humans pretending to be AI (yes, that’s a thing). 

Here’s an excerpt from a 2022 article in The Guardian.

“The position was at a company that made artificial intelligence for real estate. They had developed a product called Brenda, a conversational AI that could answer questions about apartment listings,” the author said. For one weird year, I was the human who stepped in to make sure a property chatbot didn’t blow its cover – I was a person pretending to be a computer pretending to be a person.”

If you’re looking for essentially a call center to handle your prospect communications, Brenda might be the chatbot for you. But if you’re looking to get more out of your technology, AI and automation will provide the best return on investment (and probably a whole lot cheaper than paying a premium for ChatGPT, or humans pretending to be computers pretending to be humans 😉). 

To get a better understanding of what you want to get out of your AI chatbot or AI leasing assistant, check out this checklist to get started.


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