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Automated Survey with Java and Spring

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Have you ever wondered how to create an automated survey that can be answered over 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 sends an SMS to the survey phone number.
  2. Twilio gets the call or text and makes an HTTP request to your application asking for instructions on how to respond.
  3. Your web application instructs Twilio (using TwiML) to Gather or Record the user input over the phone, and prompt for text input with Message if you are using SMS.
  4. After each question, Twilio makes another request to your server with the user's input, which your application stores in its database.
  5. After storing the answer, our server will instruct Twilio to Redirect the user to the next question or finish the survey.

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


        Initialize the Java application

        Click here to get started!

        Creating a Survey

        In order to perform automated surveys we first need to have some questions to ask. For your convenience, this application's repository already includes one survey that can be loaded into the database. If the database is configured correctly this survey will be loaded each time the app starts.

        You can modify the questions from the survey by editing the survey.json file located in the root of the repository and re-running the app.


              Seed database with survey questions


              We want our users to have a way to take this survey, so we still 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 answer a question for your survey over the phone using either their phone's keypad or by speaking. After each interaction Twilio makes 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.

              For SMS surveys the user will answer questions by replying with another SMS to the Twilio number that sent the question.

              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.

              Survey Webhook Config

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

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


                    Endpoints for voice and sms requests to your survey


                    You've configured your webhooks in the Twilio Console. Let's learn how to handle requests to our Twilio endpoints.

                    Respond to the Twilio request

                    Responding to a Twilio Request

                    Right after receiving a call or an SMS, Twilio sends a request to the URL specified in our phone number configuration (/survey/call for calls and /survey/sms for sms).

                    Each of these endpoints will receive the request and will use a TwiMLUtil to return a welcome message to the user. For voice call users, the message will contain a Say verb with the message, whereas if the user is interacting with our survey over SMS, the message will use a Message verb.

                    We will also include a Redirect verb pointing to the question's endpoint in order to continue the survey flow.


                          Welcome a user and redirect to the question controller


                          We've seen how to handle requests to our webhooks. Now let's respond to some messages.

                          Respond to incoming messages

                          Question Controller

                          This endpoint will check to see if our inbound request is an SMS or voice call, instantiating the proper class to build the correct TwiML response. Each type of question and interaction (Call or SMS) will produce different instructions on how to proceed. For instance, we can record voice or gather a key press during a call, but we can't do the same for text messages.

                          When the user is interacting with our survey over SMS we don't have something like an ongoing call session with a well defined state. It becomes harder to know if an SMS is answering question 2 or 20, since all requests will be sent to our /survey/sms main endpoint. To solve that, we can use Twilio Cookies to keep track of what question is being answered at a given moment. This is done with the createSessionForQuestion method.


                                Create and manage survey sessions


                                Next, we'll see how to build TwiML to handle responses to our survey questions.

                                Respond to a Twilio request

                                Building Our TwiML Verbs

                                If the question is "numeric" or "yes-no" in nature, we need to use the <Gather> verb. However, if we expect the user to record a free-form voice answer we need to 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 as a callback. This endpoint is 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 all useful text, making a request to our response endpoint when the transcription is complete.


                                      Record and gather survey responses


                                      We've seen how to generate questions with TwiML. Now, lets see how to handle the responses.

                                      Save user responses

                                      Handling Responses

                                      After the user has finished speaking and pressing keys, Twilio sends a request telling us what happened and asking for further instructions.

                                      At this point, we need to recover data from Twilio's request parameters (ResponseParser does this) and store them with our persistResponse method.

                                      Recovered parameters vary according to what we asked in our survey questions:

                                      • Body contains the text message from an answer sent over SMS.
                                      • Digits contains the keys pressed for a numeric question.
                                      • RecodingUrl contains the URL for listening to a recorded message.
                                      • TranscriptionText contains the text of a voice recording.

                                      Finally we redirect to our Question controller, which will ask the next question in the loop. This is done in the redirectToNextQuestion method.


                                            Process and store user survey responses


                                            Now, let's see how to visualize the results of our survey.

                                            Display survey results

                                            Displaying the Survey Results

                                            For this route we simply query the database using a JPA query and then display the information within a Mustache template. We display a panel for every question in the survey, and inside each panel we list the responses from different calls.

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


                                                  Return survey results for template rendering


                                                  That's it!

                                                  If you have 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 Java developer working with Twilio, you might enjoy these other tutorials:

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                                                  Click to Call

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                                                  Did this help?

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

                                                  Mario Celi Orlando Hidalgo Kat King Samuel Mendes Andrew Baker Jose Oliveros Brianna DelValle
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                                                  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 by visiting Twilio's Stack Overflow Collective or browsing the Twilio tag on Stack Overflow.


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