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Automated Survey with Ruby and Rails

Have you ever wondered how to create an automated survey that can be answered by phone or SMS?

This tutorial will show how to do it using the Twilio API.

Here's how it works at a high level

  1. The end user calls or texts the survey's phone number.
  2. Twilio gets the call or SMS and makes an HTTP request to your application asking for instructions on how to respond.
  3. Your web application serves up TwiML instructions to Gather or Record the user input over the phone, or prompts for text input with Message.
  4. After each question, Twilio makes another request to your server with the user's input. Your application stores this input in its database.
  5. Your application returns a TwiML response to Twilio with instructions to either ask the next question or complete the survey.

Instacart uses Twilio to power their customer service surveys and integrate that feedback into their customer database. Read more here.

Click here to get started!

Creating a Survey

For your convenience, this application's repository already includes one survey that can be loaded into the database. This survey will be loaded into the database when the app starts as long as the database is configured correctly.

You can modify the survey questions by editing the seeds.rb file located in the root of the repository and re-running the app. You can see more about seeding your database here.

        
        
        
        
        app/controllers/surveys_controller.rb

        Automated Survey controller

        app/controllers/surveys_controller.rb

        We want users to take our survey, so we need to implement a handler for SMS and calls. First, let's take a moment to understand the flow of a Twilio-powered survey as an interview loop.

        What is an interview loop?

        The Interview Loop

        The user can enter an answer for your survey over the phone using either their phone's keypad or by speaking. After each interaction Twilio will make an HTTP request to your web application with either the string of keys the user pressed or a URL to a recording of their voice input.

        It's up to the application to process, store, and respond to the user's input.

        Let's dive into this flow to see how it actually works.

        Configure your application to work with Twilio

        Configuring a Twilio Number

        To initiate the interview process, we need to configure one of our Twilio numbers to send our web application an HTTP request when we get an incoming call or text.

        Click on one of your numbers and configure your Voice and Message URLs to point to your server. In our code, the routes are /surveys/voice and /surveys/sms, respectively.

        Automated Survey Webhook Setup

        If you don't already have a server configured to use as your webhook, ngrok is a great tool for testing webhooks locally.

              
              
              
              
              app/controllers/surveys_controller.rb

              Voice and SMS endpoints for user survey

              app/controllers/surveys_controller.rb

              Lets see how we'll handle these webhooks.

              Respond to the Twilio request

              Responding to the Twilio Request

              After receiveing a call or SMS, Twilio will send a request to the URL specified in that phone number's configuration:

              • /surveys/voice for calls.
              • /surveys/sms for SMS.

              Each of these endpoints will receive the request and will use Twilio::TwiML::Response to return a welcome message to the user. For callers, the constructed message will contain a Say verb. For requests coming from a text we'll respond with a Message which will respond with an SMS.

              Our response will also include a Redirect verb to redirect to our question enpoint in order to continue the survey flow.

                    
                    
                    
                    
                    app/controllers/surveys_controller.rb

                    Welcome message for voice surveys

                    app/controllers/surveys_controller.rb

                    Now that we know how to handle requests to our webhooks, let's learn how to keep track of the survey's state.

                    Build a question controller for calls

                    Question Controller

                    This controller is used for calls only. It produces the TwiML with the questions in our survey.

                    The sequence of questions is modeled through the action verb attribute.

                          
                          
                          
                          
                          app/controllers/questions_controller.rb

                          Question controller for voice surveys

                          app/controllers/questions_controller.rb

                          Let's see how to create the voice response.

                          Create a voice response

                          Creating the Voice Response

                          If there is no question (Question::NoQuestion), we'll respond with an exit message.

                          If the question is "numeric" in nature, then we use the <Gather> verb. However, if we expect voice input from the user, we use the <Record> verb. Both verbs take an action attribute and a method attribute.

                          Twilio will use both attributes to define our response's endpoint to use as callback. That endpoint will be responsible for receiving and storing the caller's answer.

                          During the Record verb creation, we also ask Twilio for a Transcription. Twilio will process the voice recording and extract useful text, making a request to our response's endpoint when the transcription is complete.

                                
                                
                                
                                
                                lib/voice/create_response.rb

                                Create a voice response or exit the survey

                                lib/voice/create_response.rb

                                Now let's see how to handle the response that comes in from our user.

                                Handle user responses

                                Handling Responses

                                When the user finishes their response, Twilio sends us a request that tells us what happened and asks for further instructions on how to proceed.

                                At this point, we need to recover data from Twilio's request parameters using the create method on Answer.

                                Recovered parameters vary according to what we asked during the survey:

                                • From contains the caller's phone number.
                                • RecodingUrl contains the URL for listening to a recorded message.
                                • Digits contains the keys pressed for a numeric question.
                                • CallSid contains the unique identifier for the call.

                                Finally we redirect to our question controller, which will ask the next question in the interview loop. This is done via the Voice::CreateResponse.for method.

                                      
                                      
                                      
                                      
                                      app/controllers/answers_controller.rb

                                      Handle user responses

                                      app/controllers/answers_controller.rb

                                      We're almost done! Now let's find a way to visualize our survey results.

                                      Display survey results

                                      Displaying the Survey Results

                                      For this route, we simply query the database using the Active Record Query Interface.

                                      We display a panel for every question from the survey, and inside every panel, we list the responses from different calls.

                                      You can access this page in the application's root route.

                                            
                                            
                                            
                                            
                                            app/controllers/surveys_controller.rb

                                            Display survey results at the application index

                                            app/controllers/surveys_controller.rb

                                            That's it! If you configured one of your Twilio numbers to work with the application built in this tutorial you should be able to take the survey and see the results under the root route of the application. We hope you found this sample application useful.

                                            What's next?

                                            Where to Next?

                                            If you're a Ruby/Rails developer working with Twilio, you might enjoy these other tutorials:

                                            Appointment Reminders

                                            Automate the process of reaching out to your customers in advance of an upcoming appointment.

                                            Click to Call

                                            Click-to-call enables your company to convert web traffic into phone calls with the click of a button.

                                            Did this help?

                                            Thanks for checking out this tutorial! If you have any feedback to share with us, we'd love to hear it. Reach out to us on Twitter and let us know what you build!

                                            Agustin Camino Jose Oliveros Orlando Hidalgo Andrew Baker Kat King David Prothero

                                            Need some help?

                                            We all do sometimes; code is hard. Get help now from our support team, or lean on the wisdom of the crowd browsing the Twilio tag on Stack Overflow.